Hamon, Valls to Face Off in French Socialist Primary

Leftwing outsider Benoit Hamon will face pro-business rightwinger Manuel Valls in the final vote to pick the Socialist party’s presidential candidate
Benoit Hamon (L) and Manuel VallsBenoit Hamon (L) and Manuel Valls

Benoit Hamon and Manuel Valls on Sunday advanced to the second round of France’s leftwing primary, setting up a battle for who will represent the ruling Socialists in the upcoming presidential election, but also for the soul of their party.

Hamon, 49, delivered the latest unexpected turn to a presidential race already full of surprises when he finished a decisive first on Sunday evening. 

The one-time underdog claimed more than 36% of all votes cast in the first round of the primary organized by the Socialist Party, but that also included allied, micro-parties, France24 reported.

In one week, he will face off against Manuel Valls, a former prime minister who was long touted as the frontrunner of the primary, but who nevertheless managed to save face by winning around 31% support and make it into the runoff.

“Leftwing constituents voted with their hearts and have not given up,” Hamon, a former education minister and admirer of US Senator Bernie Sanders, said in a victory speech as his campaign’s headquarters in Paris.

His triumph at the ballot box was then sweetened by an endorsement by primary rival Arnaud Montebourg, who came in third place with around 18% of votes.

Speaking to supporters late on Sunday, Valls described the upcoming duel as a simple choice between “certain defeat” in the presidential election if Hamon is chosen, and “possible victory” if he is picked as the Socialist’s nominee.

 Battle for the Party

“Clearly this is going to be major choice for the Socialist Party,” said FRANCE 24 politics editor Marc Perelman, noting that Hamon and Valls represent extreme opposites within the political camp.

Valls, 54, has angered many leftwing sympathizers by championing pro-market economic policies alongside President Francois Hollande, while approving a state of emergency restricting civil liberties after a series of terrorist attacks.

Hamon and Montebourg are among a list of former ministers who quit Hollande’s government in protest over the pro-business turn. Hamon–who supports implementing a universal basic income and shortening the work week from 35 to 32 hours–addressed this rift directly as he proclaimed victory on Sunday. 

“By putting me in the lead, you have sent a clear message of hope and renewal; the desire to write a new chapter for the left in France,” he said.

  Two Million Voters

Around two million people participated in Sunday’s leftwing primary, which was open to any eligible French voter or Socialist Party member who was willing to part with 1 euro.

While turnout might have exceeded the 1.5-million target set by Socialist party organizers, it was still less than half of the 4.3 million people who cast ballots in France’s conservative primary in November. Indeed, polls show the mainstream left is not expected to perform well in France’s presidential and parliamentary elections this upcoming spring.

Whoever wins the leftwing primary is expected to finish in only fifth place in the race for the Elysee Palace.

Opinion polls reveal Hamon or Valls would lose to conservative nominee Francois Fillon, but also far-right leader Marine Le Pen, radical-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Hamon and Valls will face off in a last televised debate on Wednesday, before the second round poll on January 29.

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