Crowded start­ing line for France’s So­cial­ist pri­mary

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS: France’s once-pow­er­ful left wing is fight­ing for its po­lit­i­cal sur­vival as it pre­pares for a ca­cophonous pri­mary for the So­cial­ist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Former Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls leads the pack but is fac­ing tough chal­lengers who say he’s be­trayed left­ist ideals. Here’s a look at the left-wing contenders, their ri­vals, and the is­sues.

When do the votes take place?

Nine can­di­dates de­clared their can­di­dacy by Thurs­day’s dead­line to rep­re­sent the So­cial­ist party and its al­lies in France’s two-round, April-May pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The can­di­dates’ list was be­ing fi­nal­ized Satur­day for the left’s na­tion­wide pri­mary, which will take place in two rounds on Jan. 22 and 29. All French cit­i­zens are al­lowed to vote if they pay 1 euro ($1.04) and sign a doc­u­ment say­ing they share the val­ues of the left. Who­ever wins the pri­mary will face strong com­pe­ti­tion: the anti-im­mi­grant far-right rep­re­sented by the Na­tional Front, the tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tives and other cen­trist and far-left can­di­dates woo­ing vot­ers fed up with So­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Francois Hol­lande.

Why is France’s so­cial­ist pres­i­dent not run­ning?

Hol­lande, ac­knowl­edg­ing that his per­sonal un­pop­u­lar­ity might cost his party the El­y­see Palace, de­cided not to run for re-elec­tion - clear­ing the way for Valls to seek the So­cial­ist nom­i­na­tion in­stead. Valls, an im­mi­grant from Spain who be­came French as an adult, is cam­paign­ing against pop­ulism and wants to be the can­di­date of “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.” The pri­mary is a “great way to be united again,” Valls said in his first cam­paign speech. Yet di­vi­sions within the So­cial­ist party re­main deep. The pro-busi­ness shift that Hol­lande and Valls adopted has prompted re­bel­lion among some So­cial­ists who be­lieve they be­trayed the left­ist val­ues that un­der­pin France’s so­cial wel­fare sys­tem and its worker pro­tec­tions.

What so­cial­ist can­di­dates are crit­i­cal of Valls?

Among Valls’ crit­ics is Ar­naud Mon­te­bourg, who may be his most se­ri­ous So­cial­ist chal­lenger. Mon­te­bourg, France’s in­dus­try min­is­ter and then its econ­omy min­is­ter from 2012 to 2014, lost his port­fo­lio amid feud­ing over the coun­try’s eco­nomic pol­icy. “We have an enor­mous prob­lem with Valls. His poli­cies have been, if I sum­ma­rize, pro-free mar­ket and au­thor­i­tar­ian ... it has dis­lo­cated the left,” Mon­te­bourg told the Le Monde news­pa­per. Mon­te­bourg pledges to boost the econ­omy through pro­tec­tion­ist mea­sures and state in­ter­ven­tion. Former French Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Benoit Ha­mon is also run­ning to present a more left­ist al­ter­na­tive to Valls’ cen­trist views. A wild card could be Vin­cent Peil­lon, another former ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter who presents him­self as the can­di­date of “unity” and has a less di­vi­sive rep­u­ta­tion than Valls.

Who are the pop­u­lar left­ist wild cards?

In a sign of the French left’s deep malaise, other left-wing can­di­dates have de­cided to run for pres­i­dent with­out tak­ing part in the Jan­uary pri­mary. Polls show far-left leader Jean-Luc Me­len­chon and cen­trist fig­ure Em­manuel Macron - Valls’ former econ­omy min­is­ter - cur­rently have more sup­port than the even­tual So­cial­ist nom­i­nee and will be on the bal­lot for at least the first pres­i­den­tial round on April 23.

The right wing and far right

Who­ever wins the So­cial­ist pri­mary must also face strong chal­lengers on the right for France’s pres­i­den­tial vote on April 23 and - if the So­cial­ists sur­vive the first round - the pres­i­den­tial runoff on May 7. Former Prime Min­is­ter Francois Fil­lon was des­ig­nated last month as the con­ser­va­tives’ pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. Another se­ri­ous pres­i­den­tial con­tender is far-right leader Ma­rine Le Pen, who wants to re­store France’s bor­ders and its na­tional cur­rency and has strong anti-Is­lam, anti-mi­grant views. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say Le Pen may reach the sec­ond round of the French pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by com­ing among the top two contenders in April.

—AP

PARIS: Former French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls, now can­di­date for the so­cial­ist party pri­mary elec­tion, is pic­tured dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of his cam­paign head­quar­ters.

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