Con­ser­va­tives vot­ing in first pres­i­den­tial pri­mary

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

French con­ser­va­tives are vot­ing in a na­tion­wide pri­mary to choose their nom­i­nee for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, af­ter a cam­paign marked by con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion and Is­lamic ex­trem­ism. Seven can­di­dates are com­pet­ing Sun­day in the first round of the pri­mary. A runoff will be held be­tween the top two vote-get­ters a week later. The three lead­ing can­di­dates are for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy and for­mer prime min­is­ters Fran­cois Fil­lon and Alain Juppe. The can­di­dates have been keep­ing a close eye on far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen, whose crit­i­cism of im­mi­gra­tion and Mus­lim prac­tices res­onates with many vot­ers. It’s the first such pri­mary or­ga­nized by France’s con­ser­va­tives, mak­ing the out­come hard to pre­dict. Can­di­dates pre­vi­ously were des­ig­nated in­ter­nally. Re­sults from the first-round vot­ing are ex­pected late Sun­day. French con­ser­va­tives were vot­ing in a na­tion­wide pri­mary Sun­day to choose their nom­i­nee for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, af­ter a cam­paign marked by con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion and Is­lamic ex­trem­ism — and over­shad­owed by the rise of a pop­ulist leader em­bold­ened by Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion. Seven can­di­dates are com­pet­ing in the first round of the pri­mary. A runoff will be held be­tween the top two vote-get­ters a week later.. The three lead­ing can­di­dates are for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, 61, and for­mer prime min­is­ters Fran­cois Fil­lon, 62, and Alain Juppe, 72. As a new wave of pop­ulism sweeps govern­ments in the West, the win­ner of the con­ser­va­tive pri­mary is ex­pected to have strong chances of win­ning the April-May pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The cam­paign has fo­cused on a surge in im­mi­gra­tion — a hotly de­bated is­sue through­out Europe — and se­cu­rity con­cerns fol­low­ing re­cent at­tacks by Is­lamic ex­trem­ists. The con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates have been watch­ing the po­lit­i­cal rise of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is hop­ing anti-im­mi­grant, anti-Mus­lim and anti-es­tab­lish­ment sen­ti­ment can pro­pel her to the pres­i­dency. Le Pen, the of­fi­cial can­di­date of her Na­tional Front party, cel­e­brated U.S. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory as a sign of hope for her cam­paign. Sarkozy hopes to pull votes from peo­ple at­tracted to Le Pen. He has called for stricter im­mi­gra­tion rules across Europe, and vowed to ban Mus­lim women from wear­ing head­scarves at uni­ver­si­ties and pos­si­bly else­where. Hi­jabs al­ready are banned in French schools, like all other vis­i­ble signs of re­li­gion in strictly sec­u­lar France. Fil­lon — who has en­joyed a re­cent boost in pop­u­lar­ity thanks to his im­age of author­ity and se­ri­ous­ness com­pared to Sarkozy’s more out­spo­ken, brazen de­meanor — pledges to or­ga­nize a ref­er­en­dum on a quota sys­tem for im­mi­grants. In con­trast, Juppe is ad­vo­cat­ing a more peace­ful vi­sion of French so­ci­ety, based on re­spect for re­li­gious free­dom and eth­nic di­ver­sity. On the eco­nomic front, all can­di­dates want to lower taxes —es­pe­cially on busi­nesses— and re­duce the num­ber of pub­lic ser­vants. They also all agree to re­verse the 35-hour work­week, a mea­sure ap­plied to all French em­ploy­ees since 2000. This is the first time French con­ser­va­tives are hold­ing a pri­mary, mak­ing out­comes hard to pre­dict. Can­di­dates pre­vi­ously were des­ig­nated via an in­ter­nal pro­ce­dure. The So­cial­ist Party or­ga­nized France’s first-ever pri­mary in 2011, a vote won by Fran­cois Hol­lande, who went on to win the French pres­i­dency the fol­low­ing year.

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