Fillon floors rival in conservative primaries
Francois Fillon has taken the conservative ticket in next year’s French presidential election by a landslide at party primaries. With nearly all the ballots counted, he had won 66.5% to 33.5% for his run-off rival, Alain Juppe. The former prime minister promised to build a fairer society, saying France wanted “truth and... action”. A new opinion poll suggests he would easily beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the actual election. According to the Harris interactive poll quoted by BFMTV, Mr Fillon would lead the National Front candidate by 26% to 24% in the first round, then win the run-off against her by 67% to 33%. Mr Juppe, also a former prime minister and regarded as more moderate, congratulated Mr Fillon and pledged to support him in his bid to become president. The job for Mr Fillon now is to unite his party after this unprecedented primary battle, and prepare to take on the governing Socialist party - and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen - in presidential elections next year. As the result of the Republican party primary became clear, Mr Fillon told his supporters he would work for change. “If the French people entrust me with their confidence,” he said, “I will try to respect that contract and conduct myself with dignity.” “I will take up an unusual challenge for France,” he went on to say. “To tell the truth and completely change its software.” Mr Fillon had been widely expected to win the race, after securing 44% of the vote in the first round a week ago that saw former President Nicolas Sarkozy knocked out. The 62-year-old is a Roman Catholic who is seen as a traditionalist on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. He is proposing dramatic economic reforms that include slashing 50,000 public jobs, ending the 35-hour week, raising the retirement age and scrapping the wealth tax. On foreign policy, he advocates closer relations with Russia. Mr Juppe had initially been seen as the favourite to win the race but struggled against Mr Fillon’s strong performances in the primary debates. Conservative daily Le Figaro warns Mr Fillon’s biggest challenge will now be to stop the “terrible alienation of the ordinary voter”, as he will need to appeal to a much broader constituency at the presidential election than in these primaries. Marginalised voters, it argues, are “being driven into the arms of the National Front by unemployment and uncontrolled immigration”. The centre-left Le Monde says Mr Fillon’s clear victory gives him a “good chance of winning against the National Front and a comatose left”.