Ni­co­las Sarkozy crashes out of French Right-wing pri­maries as Thatcherite François Fil­lon comes spec­tac­u­lar first

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Ni­co­las Sarkozy on Sun­day crashed out of the race to elect a Right-wing nom­i­nee for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in France, af­ter François Fil­lon, a Thatcherite with a Welsh wife, came a spec­tac­u­lar first ahead of Alain Juppé.

The race to pick a nom­i­nee for the Repub­li­cans party has sparked huge in­ter­est as the win­ner is likely to meet – and de­feat – Ma­rine Le Pen, leader of the anti-EU, anti-im­mi­grant Front Na­tional, in the defini­tive pres­i­den­tial run-off next May.

The bal­lot was open to any­one will­ing to pay €2 who pro­fesses agree­ment with the val­ues of the cen­tre-Right.

In a sur­prise out­come, Mr Fil­lon was on course to fin­ish far out in front in round one.ico­las Sarkozy votes in Fr

With al­most all of the 10,000 polling sta­tions counted, Mr Fil­lon was on 44.2 per cent, Mr Juppé on 28.4 per cent and Mr Sarkozy well be­hind on 20.7 per cent.

The re­sult was a crush­ing blow for the ex-French pres­i­dent, who had hoped to re­claim the keys to the Elysée Palace af­ter his de­feat to So­cial­ist François Hol­lande in 2012.

But Mr Sarkozy took his de­feat grace­fully, bow­ing out of front­line French pol­i­tics, per­haps this time for good.

Ad­dress­ing his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and his four chil­dren, he said: “It’s not easy to live with a man who sparks so much pas­sion. It’s time for me to live a life with more pri­vate pas­sion and less pub­lic pas­sion. Good luck France.”

Mr Sarkozy had reached out to the far-Right elec­torate with a mus­cu­lar stance on na­tional iden­tity, im­mi­gra­tion and Is­lam. That tac­tic clearly failed. But he urged his sup­port­ers not to drop the main­stream Right for the Front Na­tional.

He said: “I will ask them never to take the path of ex­tremes. France de­serves so much more than the worst choice.”

Mr Sarkozy then threw his weight be­hind Mr Fil­lon, 62.

An ad­mirer of Mar­garet Thatcher, Mr Fil­lon has pledged to slash half a mil­lion state sec­tor jobs over five years and hack away at rigid labour laws.

Ac­cused of go­ing too far by his ri­vals, the Paris MP said in his fi­nal rally: “I’m tagged with an [eco­nom­i­cally] lib­eral la­bel in the same way one would paint crosses on the doors of lep­ers in the mid­dle ages. But I’m just a prag­ma­tist.”

The calm, com­pe­tent An­glophile who has five chil­dren with his wife Pene­lope, from Llanover near Aber­gavenny, was polling to come a dis­tant third weeks ago, but en­joyed a spec­tac­u­lar last­minute surge.

A so­cial con­ser­va­tive who voted against same-sex mar­riage and is against med­i­cally as­sisted pro­cre­ation for sin­gle women or les­bian cou­ples, he has the sup­port of the tra­di­tional Catholic Right.

Mr Fil­lon gained trac­tion in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign af­ter pub­lish­ing a book on the fight

against rad­i­cal Is­lam and per­form­ing well in tele­vised de­bates.

He has called for a rap­proche­ment with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, to fight Isil in Syria and pro­tect Chris­tian mi­nori­ties, in­ti­mat­ing that this was the pri­or­ity over oust­ing Syria’s Bashar al-As­sad.

To cheer­ing sup­port­ers clearly stunned at his huge ad­vance over Mr Juppé, Mr Fil­lon spared a thought for Mr Sarkozy, say­ing: “De­feat mustn’t hu­mil­i­ate any­one as we will need ev­ery­one.”

He promised to “am­plify” this un­ex­pected lead in next Sun­day’s run-off.

Mr Juppé, a more mod­er­ate 71year-old ex-prime min­is­ter, had long been the fron­trun­ner. The mayor of Bordeaux had ap­pealed to cen­trist and even Left-wing vot­ers to help him bring the French to­gether and cre­ate a “happy iden­tity” for a na­tion plagued by high un­em­ploy­ment and ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

But his con­sen­sual mes­sage lost ground in re­cent days with Rightwingers ap­par­ently pre­fer­ring the more so­cially con­ser­va­tive Mr Fil­lon.

How­ever, Mr Juppé in­sisted: “I have de­cided to con­tinue the fight. I be­lieve that more than ever the peo­ple of France need to come to­gether”, pledg­ing to “to bar the route to the Front Na­tional that would drag us on the worst of paths.”

“A fight be­tween one project and another be­gins to­mor­row. The first round turned out to be a sur­prise. Next Sun­day, if you so wish, and if I wish is, will be another sur­prise.”

With at least 3.5 mil­lion bal­lots cast, turnout sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions for the first round of the French Right’s first ever pri­mary.

With the French Left in tat­ters, many non-Right wingers wanted to have their say over the man likely to be­come France’s next pres­i­dent. Many ex­pressed their in­ten­tion to bar Mr Sarkozy’s re­turn in favour of Mr Juppé. But an even higher per­cent­age of Rightwingers dropped Mr Sarkozy in favour of Mr Fil­lon.

Af­ter a bit­ter 2012 lead­er­ship bat­tled that de­scended into an­gry ac­cu­sa­tions of elec­toral fraud, the cen­tre-Right was des­per­ate for the pri­mary elec­tion to go with­out a hitch, which all agreed had been the case.

Ms Le Pen, who is con­vinced that Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion in the wake of Brexit could see her tri­umph next May, in­sisted that the cen­tre-Right was now danc­ing to her tune.

“Never have they talked so much in this pri­mary about se­cu­rity, never have they been so against sav­age glob­al­i­sa­tion, never have they spo­ken so much about pro­tec­tion­ism,” she told France 3. “I’m not adapt­ing to them, they’re adapt­ing to me.”

She pre­dicted that the pri­mary re­sults could see some de­feated main­stream Right-wingers de­fect to her camp and spell “the re­com­po­si­tion of po­lit­i­cal life that ev­ery­one can feel com­ing, and which will come about be­fore or af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.”

Afghan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity work­ers sweep Baqir-ul Ulom mosque af­ter a sui­cide at­tack, in Kabul, Afghanistan. An Afghan of­fi­cial says that dozens of civil­ians have been killed af­ter a sui­cide bomber at­tacked a Shi­ite mosque in the cap­i­tal. Pho­to­graph: AP

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