French left votes for its presidential champion

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.

PTI



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

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