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Who are the candidates
in France’s left-wing presidential primary?

Last update: 10/01/2017




President François Hollande’s decision not to seek a second mandate has left a wide-open field ahead of primaries to designate a nominee for the Socialist Party and its allies. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the seven candidates.

Polls suggest the unpopular Socialists will fail to qualify for the second round of France’s presidential election on May 7, slipping behind conservative candidate François Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Whoever wins the Socialist ticket will be sandwiched in between hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon and centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have shunned the primary.

But the Socialists are still the missing piece in the presidential election’s jigsaw puzzle, and their platform may yet alter the dynamics of the race. They are hoping 2017 will prove as unpredictable as the year that gave us Brexit and Donald Trump.

As in the conservative primary, which saw Fillon triumph last November, all but one of the contestants are men.

Technically, it is not only a Socialist primary, with an array of satellite micro-parties joining the fray under the peculiar banner of the “Belle Alliance Populaire” (Beautiful Popular Alliance). However, only four candidates have a genuine chance of winning - all of them Socialist Party members.

The two-round primary takes place on January 22 and 29. It is open to all registered French voters, as well as foreigners and minors (aged 16 or above) who are members of one of the organising parties.









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Jean-Luc Bennahmias

Barring a few exceptions, France’s centrist parties traditionally look to the right for allies. The recently created Democratic Front – a one-man party formed around veteran Jean-Luc Bennahmias – is one such exception. Bennahmias, 62, has called for the formation of a “progressive arc”, stretching from far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon to moderate conservative Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. That is as unlikely to happen as him winning the primary.

His policies

A varied hodgepodge of proposals, Bennahmias’s platform is a “progressive arc” in its own right. Like Benoît Hamon, he plans to introduce some kind of universal basic income. He is akin to green candidate François de Rugy in advocating a total transition to renewable energy and sustainable farming, while his bid to legalise cannabis places him on a par with Radical Party candidate Sylvia Pinel. He has also joined Vincent Peillon in calling for greater European cooperation, including a common budget across the 19-member Eurozone.

His chances
None

Photo: Dominique Faget / AFP

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Benoît Hamon

A former education minister under François Hollande, Benoît Hamon has been one of the Socialist president’s fiercest critics. The 49-year-old from Brittany is casting himself as a moderniser firmly rooted in the left. His campaign motto, “Faire battre le coeur de la France” (Make France’s heart beat), suggests the country is in desperate need of a jolt.

His policies

Hamon was the first to declare his bid in August 2016, placing social and environmental issues at the heart of his platform even as talk of security and identity dominated media coverage. His flagship welfare reform is a costly universal basic income (a fashionable idea that involves giving all citizens a basic wage, regardless of personal wealth), to be financed through an overhaul of France’s tax system. A Bernie Sanders fan, Hamon says the digital age calls for a new social model in which the shrinking workload is spread out more evenly across society, people get more leisure time, and robots pay taxes on the wealth they create. And while critics say France’s 35-hour work week is too short, he wants to cut it further.

His chances
It is a measure of Hamon’s rise in the polls that his rivals have belatedly seized on the universal basic income – whether to copy it or blast it. French media had long dismissed Hamon’s chances, seeing him at best as a distant “third man”. But then his ratings doubled in December, leaving him within striking distance of the second round.

Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP

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François de Rugy

France’s main green party, Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV), already has a candidate for the presidency. But mercifully for the Socialists, a smaller splinter group, known as the Parti écologiste, has agreed to take part in the primary of the “Belle Alliance Populaire”. Its leader, François de Rugy, will have a hard time proving he is more than a token green candidate.

His policies

The deputy head of France’s National Assembly, de Rugy casts himself as a pragmatic reformist, opposed to the intransigent stance associated with the more leftist EELV. He calls for a gradual transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050, and an end to all carbon-emitting transport by 2025. Other proposals include legalising euthanasia and gestational surrogacy, and making it compulsory to vote in national elections.

His chances
None.

Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP

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Arnaud Montebourg

The flamboyant former economy minister was kicked out of the Socialist government in 2014 after he slammed François Hollande’s pro-business shift. He has since stepped up his criticism of the outgoing administration, claiming it betrayed the hopes and aspirations of the left. An advocate of protectionist policies and a strong state, the 53-year-old is seen as one of the primary’s frontrunners.

His policies

True to style, Montebourg has listed a number of headline-grabbing proposals, including levying a €5 billion supertax on banks and possibly nationalising one lender. But his boldest plan involves setting aside 80% of all public contracts for French businesses – in defiance of EU rules. Like other left-wingers before him, Montebourg also pledged to scrap the bloc’s budget guidelines in order to free France from the shackles of austerity.

His chances
Polls suggest a face-off between Montebourg and Valls is the likeliest scenario for the second round. But Benoît Hamon’s rise means Montebourg can no longer be certain of qualifying for the run-off.

Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

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Manuel Valls

A pro-business reformist who is tough on law and order, Manuel Valls is the primary’s hot favourite. His supporters say the Spanish-born former prime minister is the only one who looks “presidential”. But the 54-year-old, who scored just 5% in the primary five years ago, remains a divisive figure on the left. He also faces the delicate task of having to defend his record in the outgoing government while promising something radically new.

His policies

Having remained in the prime minister’s office until early December, Valls has had less time than his rivals to prepare his bid. The result has been a bumpy, almost chaotic start to his campaign, marked by spectacular U-turns and a flour-bombing in broad daylight. Seen by many as a centrist, Valls has been at pains to burnish his left-wing credentials, promising to boost public spending, hike teachers’ pay and pump money into France’s cash-strapped universities. Many of his pledges contradict his record in office, none more so than his vow to scrap the so-called 49-3, a notorious clause in the French constitution that allows governments to force through legislation without a vote - and which he repeatedly used while in office.

His chances
After a year of electoral upsets across the Western world, Valls has been wary of carrying the favourite’s tag. Despite a shaky start to his campaign, polls in early January gave him a strong lead over his nearest rival Arnaud Montebourg, whom he is tipped to defeat in the second round.

Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP

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Vincent Peillon

A last-minute entry, the former philosopher-minister is yet to make his mark in the race. Peillon, 56, is no newcomer to the Socialist Party. But he has steered clear of its internal squabbles since resigning as education minister in 2014. Unlike his rivals, he has defended François Hollande’s record in office, singling out Manuel Valls’s “brutal” tactics for criticism instead.

His policies

Peillon has positioned himself as a moderate, consensus-building reformist – without Valls’s authoritarianism. At a time of jingoistic patriotism and widespread EU-bashing, he has struck a rare Europhile note by calling for a “European New Deal” built around the bloc’s traditional “Franco-German motor”. The deal would involve harmonised taxes, shared social rights, and a common Eurozone budget aimed at stimulating growth.

His chances
Peillon is hoping to occupy the middle ground between his leftist and more right-leaning rivals. But polls suggest his sober, professorial pitch is struggling to find an audience.

Photo: Alain Jocard / AFP

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Sylvia Pinel

Sylvia Pinel’s last-minute decision to take part in the primary spared the left the embarrassment of having an all-male contest. With the Socialist Party’s female heavyweights steering clear of the race, it was up to their diminutive allies, the left-wing Radical Party (PRG), to field a woman. At 39, the former housing minister is also the primary’s youngest candidate.

Her policies

Pinel has rushed to put together a business-friendly platform that includes slashing corporate taxes and giving companies fiscal incentives to hire on long-term contracts. Like Benoît Hamon, she plans to legalise cannabis and extend medically-assisted reproduction rights to single women and same-sex couples. It is not clear whether she intends to honour her party’s pledge to do away with the prime minister’s job, leaving the French president in sole control of government.

Her chances :
None.

Photo: François Guillot / AFP

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