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French Left Faces Bruising Start to Presidential Elections With Seven Primary Candidates

PARIS (AP) — France’s once-powerful left wing is fighting for its political survival as it prepares for a cacophonous primary for the Socialist presidential candidate.

Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls leads the pack but is facing tough challengers who say he’s betrayed leftist ideals. Here’s a look at the left-wing contenders, their rivals, and the issues.

WHEN DO THE VOTES TAKE PLACE?

Seven candidates are in competition to represent the Socialist party and its allies in France’s two-round, April-May presidential election.

The candidates’ list has been finalized Saturday for the left’s nationwide primary, which will take place in two rounds on Jan. 22 and 29. All French citizens are allowed to vote if they pay 1 euro ($1.04) and sign a document saying they share the values of the left.

Whoever wins the primary will face strong competition: the anti-immigrant far-right represented by the National Front, the traditional conservatives and other centrist and far-left candidates wooing voters fed up with Socialist President Francois Hollande.

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WHY IS FRANCE’S SOCIALIST PRESIDENT NOT RUNNING?

Hollande, acknowledging that his personal unpopularity might cost his party the Elysee Palace, decided not to run for re-election — clearing the way for Valls to seek the Socialist nomination instead.

Valls, an immigrant from Spain who became French as an adult, is campaigning against populism and wants to be the candidate of “reconciliation.”

The primary is a “great way to be united again,” Valls said in his first campaign speech.

Yet divisions within the Socialist party remain deep. The pro-business shift that Hollande and Valls adopted has prompted rebellion among some Socialists who believe they betrayed the leftist values that underpin France’s social welfare system and its worker protections.

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WHAT SOCIALIST CANDIDATES ARE CRITICAL OF VALLS?

Among Valls’ critics is Arnaud Montebourg, who may be his most serious Socialist challenger. Montebourg, France’s industry minister and then its economy minister from 2012 to 2014, lost his portfolio amid feuding over the country’s economic policy.

“We have an enormous problem with Valls. His policies have been, if I summarize, pro-free market and authoritarian … it has dislocated the left,” Montebourg told the Le Monde newspaper.

Montebourg pledges to boost the economy through protectionist measures and state intervention.

Former French Education Minister Benoit Hamon is also running to present a more leftist alternative to Valls’ centrist views.

A wild card could be Vincent Peillon, another former education minister who presents himself as the candidate of “unity” and has a less divisive reputation than Valls.

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WHO ARE THE POPULAR LEFTIST WILD CARDS?

In a sign of the French left’s deep malaise, other left-wing candidates have decided to run for president without taking part in the January primary.

Polls show far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist figure Emmanuel Macron — Valls’ former economy minister — currently have more support than the eventual Socialist nominee and will be on the ballot for at least the first presidential round on April 23.

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UP NEXT, THE RIGHT WING AND FAR RIGHT

Whoever wins the Socialist primary must also face strong challengers on the right for France’s presidential vote on April 23 and — if the Socialists survive the first round — the presidential runoff on May 7.

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon was designated last month as the conservatives’ presidential nominee.

Another serious presidential contender is far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who wants to restore France’s borders and its national currency and has strong anti-Islam, anti-migrant views.

Political analysts say Le Pen may reach the second round of the French presidential election by coming among the top two contenders in April.

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