French con­ser­va­tives vote

> Win­ner of pres­i­den­tial pri­mary to face Le Pen for top job next year

The Sun (Malaysia) - - NEWS WITHOUT BORDERS -

PARIS: Con­ser­va­tive pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls in France face the judge­ment of vot­ers in a pri­mary race yes­ter­day and the vic­tor looks likely to win the pres­i­dency in next spring’s elec­tion against a resur­gent far-right.

With the French left in dis­ar­ray un­der the deeply un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, opinion polls sug­gest that the cen­tre-right pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee will meet and de­feat the National Front’s euroscep­tic, anti-im­mi­gra­tion leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff for the El­y­see palace next year.

Even so, af­ter Bri­tain’s shock Brexit vote and Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise US elec­tion win, the French pres­i­den­tial vote is shap­ing up to be another test of strength be­tween weak­ened main­stream par­ties and ris­ing pop­ulist forces.

For­mer prime min­is­ter Alain Juppe, a mod­er­ate con­ser­va­tive, had ap­peared firmly on track to win the nom­i­na­tion of Les Repub­li­cains party.

But in the past week the con­test has been trans­formed into a nail-bit­ing three-horse race.

Juppe has lost his lead in opinion polls to a last-minute surge by another for­mer premier, Fran­cois Fil­lon.

Lat­est surveys show the two now neck-and neck with for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy.

Fil­lon prom­ises to do away with the 35-hour work­ing week, cut half a mil­lion pub­lic sec­tor jobs and slash the cost of government – tough sells in a coun­try where pro­pos­als for mar­ket-ori­ented re­form of­ten arouse protests.

“I’m tagged with a lib­eral la­bel as one would once, in the Mid­dle Ages, paint crosses on the doors of lep­ers,” Fil­lon told a rally in Paris on Fri­day, draw­ing laugh­ter. “But I’m just a prag­ma­tist.” For weeks, the bruis­ing cam­paign bat­tle fo­cused on the duel be­tween Juppe and Sarkozy.

The two men present very dif­fer­ent pol­icy plat­forms to counter the pop­ulist tsunami that threat­ens main­stream par­ties in Europe.

Against a back­drop of deadly mil­i­tant at­tacks on home soil and Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis, Sarkozy, 61, styles him­self as the voice of France’s “si­lent ma­jor­ity”.

He vows to ban the Mus­lim veil and burki­nis, and wants to rene­go­ti­ate EU treaties. – Reuters

From left: Fil­lon, Juppe and Sarkozy.

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