Fillon the favorite as French right picks presidential nominee
PARIS, France (UPDATED) – Voters were on Sunday, November 27, choosing the presidential nominee of the French right, with ex-premier Francois Fillon tipped to win on a promise of radical economic reforms that have made him a favorite to become France's next leader.
The US-style primary is a battle between Fillon, a social conservative, and the more moderate Alain Juppe, also a former prime minister who is 9 years older at 71.
The winner is tipped to go head-to-head in the second round of the election with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the anti-establishment, anti-immigration candidate hoping to emulate Donald Trump's shock victory in the US.
Voting in the run-off round of the primary opened at 8 am (0700 GMT), with all French voters who pay two euros ($2.10) and signing a charter professing belief in the center and the right allowed to cast a ballot.
By midday turnout was up 10 to 15% compared to the same time a week ago when Fillon came from behind to win the first round of the primary with a resounding 44.1% to Juppe's 28.5%.
Fillon, who was prime minister from 2007-12, has warned that France is "on the verge of revolt" and believes his plan to slash 500,000 public sector jobs and increase working hours is the tonic needed to kickstart the economy.
"I'm waiting for the verdict of the voters, it's they who are speaking," said Fillon shortly after he cast his own ballot in Paris, which he represents in parliament.
Voting in the northwest of Paris, Christophe Mordelet, a 45-year-old human resources manager, said he chose Fillon because he showed "more authority" than Juppe, who has campaigned as a unifier.
"You have to bang your fist on the table to get reforms through in this country. We have to stop giving into the power of the street."
A devout Catholic and motor racing fan, Fillon has also won support among conservatives with his promise to defend French identity and family values, while warning about the threat from radical Islam.
Juppe, meanwhile, has made a pitch for the center-ground, saying his opponent's reform agenda is too "brutal", making it unworkable, and that he is the best man to keep the far-right out of power.
"I defended my ideas, I have no regrets," he said after casting his ballot in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, where he is mayor.
Like Fillon, Juppe has vowed to cut civil service jobs – but only half as many. Unlike Fillon, he has ruled out amending a law giving gay people full marriage and adoption rights.
He also criticized Fillon as a "yes man" of Russian President Vladimir Putin who praised Fillon last week.
"I prefer Juppe on social issues and Fillon on the economy," said Gaetan, a 22-year-old apprentice in Bordeaux who chose Fillon in the hope he would create jobs.
Antoine, a 37-year-old product development engineer in Lille, said there "wasn't much difference between them."
"But I ended up voting for Juppe to temper Fillon's very right-wing social views."
And yet it was Fillon who had the momentum heading into the vote, winning endorsements from party heavyweights including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was knocked out last weekend in perhaps a final blow to his political career.
Several surveys last week forecast Fillon to win with around 60%.
Valls vs Hollande?
As well as Le Pen, Sunday's winner will face competition in next year's vote from a Socialist party candidate.
President Francois Hollande has yet to announce whether he will try to defy his historically low approval ratings by running for a second term.
After a troubled 5 years in power, a survey on Friday showed current Prime Minister Manuel Valls would be a far more popular candidate than Hollande.
Valls has not ruled out challenging his boss in a left-wing primary set for January, telling the weekly Journal du Dimanche he wanted to dispel the idea "that the left has no chance" of retaining power.
Hollande's former protege and economy minister, 38-year-old Emmanuel Macron, is also set to stand for the presidency as a centrist independent, injecting some youth and another element of uncertainty into the race.
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is also likely to draw votes away from mainstream parties in a trend seen in elections across Europe following years of austerity and anger over globalization and job losses. – Rappler.com