French Socialists vote as turmoil engulfs Fillon

France's Socialists voted on Sunday to pick their candidate for this year's presidential polls as a fresh scandal engulfed the election's conservative frontrunner Francois Fillon.

French Socialists vote as turmoil engulfs Fillon
Manuel Valls and Benoit Hamon pose at a televised debate last week. Photo: Bertrand Guay/Pool/AFP
Socialist voters headed to polling stations from Sunday morning for the primary run-off vote between leftwinger Benoit Hamon and centrist ex-prime minister Manuel Valls.
Hamon, a 49-year-old former education minister, won the first round last weekend and has dominated the race with his radical proposals on work, state aid and the environment.
“Hamon brings principles on citizenship, solidarity and the sharing of wealth that are more the principles of the left,” 60-year-old architect Annick Descamps told AFP as she voted in northwest Paris.
But Valls, 54, says his experience makes him a more credible choice and claims his rival's tax-and-spend programme would condemn the party to inevitable defeat.
Whoever wins is expected to face an uphill task with polls showing the Socialist candidate being eliminated in the first round of the election in April after five years of unpopular rule by Socialist President Francois
The contest is being watched closely after Britain's vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump's victory in the United States.
Polls currently suggest Fillon is most likely to win, ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.
The top two candidates from the April 23 first round will go through to the final vote on May 7.
But Fillon's campaign was embroiled in new controversy on Sunday, only days after reports his wife had been paid as a parliamentary aide without working.    
The Socialist primary has confirmed a chasm within the ruling party, between a pragmatic, centre-left camp led by Valls and a staunchly leftist faction around Hamon.
Hamon won a first round of voting last week that whittled the candidates down from seven to two, taking 36 percent to Valls's 31.5 percent.
Around 7,500 polling stations opened at 0800 GMT, with voters able to cast their ballots until around 1800 GMT after paying one euro to participate.
“It's clear that Benoit Hamon goes into the second round of the Socialist primary in the role of favourite,” Jerome Sainte-Marie from the polling group PollingVox told AFP.
One of the biggest potential winners of the primary could be former economy minister Macron.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, who quit the Socialist government last year to run for president as an independent, has been drawing large crowds at his rallies and is creeping up on Fillon and Le Pen in polls.
He is tipped for further gains if, as expected, Hamon beats Valls. Valls, a pro-business centrist who takes a tough line on law and order as well as Islam, has said he will not support Hamon's programme if the latter wins.
Hamon's ideas include a proposal to introduce a universal basic income to offset dwindling work opportunities in an age of automation.  It would entail paying everyone, irrespective of income, a monthly stipend that would eventually reach 750 euros. Valls argues that would be the “ruin” of France.


Former PM Valls quits Socialists to join Macron’s army of MPs in parliament

Former French PM Manuel Valls announced on Tuesday that he was quitting the Socialist Party and instead would sit among the MPs of President Emmanuel Macron's Republique en Marche party in the French parliament.

Former PM Valls quits Socialists to join Macron's army of MPs in parliament
Photo: AFP

Valls, who was PM under former President François Hollande told French radio on Tuesday morning that he was walking away from the Socialist party.

“Part of my political life is coming to an end. I am leaving the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Party is leaving me,” the 54-year-old told RTL radio.

Valls, who was prime minister under Socialist president Francois Hollande from 2014 to 2016, was rejected by Socialist voters in the party's primary to choose a candidate for this year's presidential election.

The party chose hard-left candidate Benoit Hamon instead and he failed to reach the run-off of the presidential election in May as France's two main parties fell at the first hurdle for the first time since 1958.

Earlier this month Valls was re-elected as an MP in the department of Essonne by a tiny majority.

Shortly after his announcement the majority Republique en Marche (REM) party announced that MPs had voted to allow Valls to sit among their ranks in the new parliament, which sits for the first time on Tuesday.

Macron's party won a huge majority in June's parliamentary elections, while the Socialist party only picked up 30 seats. 

However Valls will not officially be joining the REM party, but he will benefit from certain logistical advantages of being part of the majority such as having access to speaking time in parliament.

The former PM had suffered humiliation last month when he announced he wanted to join Macron's party, only to be told to join the back of the queue like everyone else.

At the time the secretary general of Macron's La République en Marche (Republic on the Move), Richard Ferrand said Valls “did not meet the criteria” of Macron's desire to renew French politics.

In the end a deal was reached and REM decided not to put up a candidate to stand against Valls in his constituency.

The pugnacious, Spanish-born Valls was Macron's boss when the now-president was economy minister and a fierce rivalry developed between them.


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