PARIS: Voters were on Sunday choosing France’s right-wing presidential nominee, with ex-premier Francois Fillon tipped to win on a promise of radical economic reforms that have made him a favourite to lead the country.
The US-style primary is a battle between Fillon, a social conservative, and the more moderate Alain Juppe, also a former prime minister.
The winner is tipped to go head-to-head in the second round of the election in May with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the anti-establishment candidate hoping to emulate Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US.
Over four million people took part in a first round of voting a week ago, when Fillon came from behind to win with a resounding 44.1 per cent, knocking ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy out of the running. Juppe scored 28.5 percent.
In the early evening, turnout was up on the previous week with nearly three million votes cast.
Fillon, who was prime minister from 2007-12, has warned that France is “on the verge of revolt” and believes his plan to slash 500,000 public sector jobs and increase working hours is the tonic needed to kickstart the economy.
“I’m waiting for the verdict of the voters, it’s they who are speaking,” said Fillon shortly after he cast his ballot in Paris.
Several surveys forecast Fillon to win with around 60 per cent but pollsters were on edge, having been repeatedly wrongfooted lately.
The head of the hardline CGT trade union, Philippe Martinez, told France Inter radio a “mobilisation will be on the cards” if either Fillon or Juppe tried to ram through reforms.
A devout Catholic and motor racing fan, Fillon emerged as the champion of conservatives, promising to defend French identity and family values, and warning about the threat from radical Islam.
Juppe, meanwhile, made a pitch for the centre-ground, saying his opponent’s agenda was too “brutal” and he was better placed to keep the far-right out of power. “I defended my ideas, I have no regrets,” Juppe said after voting in the south-western city of Bordeaux, where he is mayor.
Like Fillon, Juppe has pledged to cut public sector jobs — but only half as many. Unlike Fillon, he ruled out amending a law giving gay people full marriage and adoption rights and pledged to uphold France’s cherished social model.
During the campaign he criticised Fillon as a “yes man” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to whom the frontrunner has close ties.
As well as Le Pen, Sunday’s winner will face competition in next year’s vote from a Socialist party candidate.
President Francois Hollande has yet to announce whether he will try to defy his historically low approval ratings by running for a second term.
After a troubled five years in power, a survey on Friday showed current Prime Minister Manuel Valls would be a far more popular candidate than Hollande.
courtesy: dawn news