Third-placed Socialist to vote for Hollande

The third-placed candidate in the first round of the French Socialist primary said on Friday he would vote for frontrunner Francois Hollande in the final vote but was not urging his supporters to follow suit.

Third-placed Socialist to vote for Hollande
Lysandre78 (File)

Arnaud Montebourg, who scored a surprising 17 percent in Sunday’s first round on a platform of protectionism and market regulation, told Le Monde newspaper that Hollande was best placed to win next year’s presidential vote.

“I want the left to win and to defeat (President) Nicolas Sarkozy,” Montebourg said.

“So, as a purely personal choice, I will vote for Francois Hollande, who was ahead in the first round and who in my eyes is the best unifier.”

But Montebourg said he would not give his supporters “instructions on who to vote for,” saying: “Each of my friends will make their choice according to their own conscience, and I will respect it.”

Hollande, a 57-year-old former party leader and lawmaker, will face off with rival Martine Aubry, the 61-year-old mayor of the northern city of Lille, in a final primary vote on Sunday for the Socialist Party’s nomination.

Hollande won the first round of the primary vote on Sunday with 39 percent, and had previously been endorsed by the three other defeated candidates, including his former partner, 2007 presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

Aubry came second with 30 percent but was expected to pick up many of the votes cast for Montebourg by appealing to the left-wing base of the party.

The run-off takes place at 10,000 polling stations across France and the stakes are high, with opinion polls suggesting either leading Socialist candidate would beat Sarkozy in next April’s presidential election.

The primary itself — the first time a French party has held a US-style open vote to choose a standard bearer — has boosted the left, mobilising its base, dominating media coverage and drawing 2.7 million to the polls.

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Here’s the latest in France’s presidential race

President Francois Hollande warned would-be successors they should cleave closely to Europe as it was "impossible" that France could contemplate going its own way.

Here's the latest in France's presidential race
French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in Reunion. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Here are three things that happened in the campaign on Saturday:

Let them throw eggs

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, under pressure over allegations of fake parliamentary jobs for the family which have hit his poll ratings, received a chaotic reception on a trip to the southern Basque region where some protesters pelted him with eggs.

Fillon, who has accused Hollande of helping foment a smear campaign against him amid claims his wife was on the public payroll but did little for her salary, ran the gauntlet in the small town of Cambo-les-Bains.

Locals demanding an amnesty for radical Basque nationalists banged pots and pans, hurled abuse and objects.

“The more they demonstrate the more the French will back me,” Fillon insisted before meeting with local officials.

Warning on Europe

President Francois Hollande warned would-be successors they should cleave closely to Europe as it was “impossible” that France could contemplate going its own way.

In a barb aimed at far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, Hollande said: “So some want to quit Europe? Well let them show the French people they would be better off alone fighting terrorism without the indispensable European coordination…

“Let them show that without the single currency and (single) market there would be more jobs, activity and better purchasing power,” Hollande said in Rome where he attended the ceremonies marking the EU's 60th anniversary.

Le Pen, favoured in opiniion polls to reach the second-round run-off vote in May, wants France to dump the euro, but Hollande said that would lead to devaluation and loss of purchasing power as he warned against nationalist populism.

'Not Father Christmas'

French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, seen in polls as beating Marine Le Pen in the May 7 run-off, was in Reunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, where alongside discussing local issues, he told voters he was “not Father Christmas.”

“I don't have the solution to all problems and I am not Father Christmas,” the 39-year-old former economy minister and banker admitted, saying he had not come to make “promises.”

He indicated he would focus on education as a priority on an island where around one in five youths are illiterate.