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French right holds high-stakes presidential primary

French right holds high-stakes presidential primary

FORMER French premier and candidate for presidential primary election Alain Juppe (left) arrives to vote in Bordeaux on Sunday. A man places a two-euro coin into a box (top right) at a polling station in Mulhouse. Anyone who pays two euros and signs a declaration that they subscribe to ‘the values of the centre and the right’ can take part in a primary in France. People queue inside the Massena museum polling station in Nice.—Agencies

PARIS: French voters went to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a US-style primary to choose a right-wing candidate for next year’s presidential election, with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-premier Alain Juppe under pressure after a contest overshadowed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

With the French left bitterly divided, whoever wins the right-wing candidacy is widely tipped to face and beat Le Pen in the decisive presidential run-off next May.

A last-minute surge in the opinion polls by Francois Fillon, who was prime minister under Sarkozy, indicate he is firmly in contention to grab one of the two spots for next Sunday’s run-off for the candidacy.

The latter stages of the campaign have focused on the possible boost to Le Pen’s presidential bid from Donald Trump’s shock victory in the United States.

Some voter surveys at the end of campaigning put Fillon nearly level with Sarkozy and Juppe, the 71-year-old political veteran who had been the frontrunner for the past two months.

Juppe’s strategy of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the reform-minded Fillon appears to have backfired.

It is the first right-wing primary to be held in France, and anyone who pays two euros and signs a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” can take part.

An unknown factor is how many left-leaning supporters will take part because most are expected to seek to block Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after losing to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.

One such Socialist voter, a sports teacher in his fifties who identified himself only as Eric, said on Sunday he taking part to vote “against Sarkozy”. “I’m fed up of that guy, he thinks he is all-powerful and he has been involved in too many scandals. Juppe, despite everything else, is the opposite,” he said as he cast his vote in the Paris suburb of Pantin.

Sarkozy scandals

In a final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday, Sarkozy angrily ducked a question about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

The case is one of several investigations to dog Sarkozy since he left office after what was dubbed a “bling-bling” presidency because of his flashy lifestyle.

Nicolas Meunier, a 40-year-old voter in Bordeaux, the south-west city where Juppe is mayor, said his natural politics were of the far-left, but he had come out to vote “to support democracy after what we’ve seen recently with Trump and Brexit”. He was supporting the only woman among the seven candidates, former environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

The nomination of the right-wing candidate on Nov 27 is expected to trigger an announcement from Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election despite the lowest popularity ratings of any post-war French president.

On Wednesday, Hollande’s former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, 38, announced he would stand as an independent, further confusing the picture on the left.

Courtesy : Dawn News

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