French Socialists hold presidential primary run-off

 29 Jan 2017 - 11:05

French Socialists hold presidential primary run-off
Photo: AA.


PARIS: Socialists in France are set to hold on Sunday the second round of the presidential primary in search of a left-wing candidate to enter the fray in the April 23 election.

The primary is open to all who are registered on the electoral roll and for a €1 ($1.04) fee. The Socialist Party are aiming for 2 million voters after a 1.7 million in the first round last weekend.

The two battling candidates are former Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his former education minister Benoit Hamon..

The center-leaning Valls came in second with 31 percent, tailing the more liberal Hamon who secured more than 36 percent of the vote, giving the current Yvelines lawmaker the lead on the run-off.

In their last tete-a-tete debate, Valls, 54, told his supporters the runoff would be "a clear choice between unachievable promises and a credible left”.

Hamon, 49, presented himself as the hope to save the limping Socialist Party after a five-year term under President Francois Hollande marked by terror attacks, a struggling economy and mass protests.

Opinion polls, however, show the divided Socialists failing to get past the first of the two-round presidential election set for April 23 and May 7. Indicators point to independent candidate and former economy minister under President Hollande, Emmanuel Macron, conservative candidate and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, and far-right leader Marine Le Pen as competing for the first two spots of the first round.

A Fillon-Le Pen presidential run-off had been considered the most likely scenario until reports came out last Wednesday accusing Fillon of misusing public funds.

- The 'Penelopegate' scandal

Fillon’s popularity is falling sharply since satirical and investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine claimed -- citing pay slips -- that Fillon‘s wife Penelope Fillon, who is British, was paid a total amount of €500,000 ($538,000) from 1998 to 2002 and then in 2012, as Fillon occupied the public offices of President of the Regional Council of Pays de la Loire and Prime Minister of France, respectively.

Fillon had secured a landslide victory in right-wing primary over Alain Juppe.

Although it was legal for Fillon to hire family members, the weekly said the aide job was a fictional position and Penelope Fillon had never actually worked.

Finance prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe for misuse of public funds.

Fillon, 62, dismissed the reports and said his wife’s "work was real", citing examples of the work he said his wife did as his aide during the late 1990s and 2000s.

He told French broadcaster TF1 on Thursday that he had also employed two of his children, who were lawyers, from public funds while he was a senator. 

Fillon said he will drop out of the presidential race if he is charged and criminally investigated. "Only one thing would prevent me from being a candidate: it's if my honor was harmed, if I were given preliminary charges," the former prime minister told TF1.

But French daily Le Parisien claimed that his two children were still law students at the time.

Another bout of controversy broke out Saturday as French investigative website Mediapart claimed the Les Republicains and Paris lawmaker benefited personally from embezzled public funds while he was senator.

The conservative candidate risks stumbling with his reputation as “Monsieur Propre” [Mr. Clean] and family-man at stake.