French left votes for its presidential champion
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Last Updated: Sunday, October 16, 2011, 21:19
Paris: Left-leaning French voters headed back to the polls on Sunday to decide whether Francois Hollande or Martine Aubry should take on Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election.

Whichever of the pair wins the Socialist Party nomination will immediately become the frontrunner in the race, as polls show the centre-right incumbent trailing either in April and May's two-round contest.

The vote is also France's first US-style open primary -- any elector who says he or she supports the ideals of the left can vote -- and a big turnout could serve as a springboard for the campaign proper.

Last Sunday, a bigger than expected 2.66 million voters turned out for the first round, which was won by 57-year-old lawmaker and former party leader Hollande, with only a narrow nine-point lead over Aubry.

Voting in the southwestern town Tulle, in his rural constituency, Hollande predicted an even bigger turnout, dubbing this a "good sign".

"We have already seen signs in the votes that took place for the French living abroad and in the overseas territories. We have confirmation that there will be a bigger turnout," he said.

"The bigger the turnout, the clearer our victory will be and the greater our candidate's chance of winning in 2012. It is an important moment, a serious one, even if it's not the final moment. That will be May 6, 2012."

Early turnout figures supported his prediction, with 870,000 people having voted after six hours, up from 800,000 in the first round.

Hollande won the backing of the four defeated first round candidates, and entered the run-off as favourite, but Aubry mounted a tough fightback this week, branding him a soft centrist without the steel to defeat Sarkozy.

Voting in Lille, where she is mayor, Aubry declared: "I urge all the French to vote for their convictions and with their hearts for real change."

Aubry, 61, the former labour minister who gave France its 35-hour working week, has also attacked Hollande's lack of executive experience.

Hollande has tried to turn the attacks to his advantage, accusing Aubry of undermining party unity and suggesting that his lack of a track record makes it easier for him to run as a candidate of change.

Sarkozy's camp was wrong-footed by the primary. Some of his supporters grudgingly admit it served as a good shop window for the Socialists, but the president himself dismissed it as alien to French political tradition.


First Published: Sunday, October 16, 2011, 21:19

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