PARIS – France’s Socialist Party was holding the first round of a US-style primary contest to pick a strong candidate for the spring presidential election. For the first time, any eligible voter sharing leftist values was able to take part, and polling stations were open across the country.
With the withdrawal of previous frontrunner Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the new favourite is Francois Hollande. Opinion polls suggest he would beat the incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy. While polls suggest Sarkozy is still deeply unpopular with the electorate, there are question marks over the Socialist Party’s economic policies. Hollande opposes spending cuts, saying the best way to reduce debt is through growth.
If none of the six candidates achieves 50% of the vote in Sunday’s round, the top two will go into a run-off a week from now. Hollande is standing against his former partner and mother of his children, Segolene Royal, as well as Royal’s long-time rival, Martine Aubry. The other candidates are two representatives of the party’s younger generation – Arnaud Montebourg and Manuel Valls – and a former minister, Jean-Michel Baylet.