French conservatives vote
> Winner of presidential primary to face Le Pen for top job next year
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.