French in center-right primary to pick presidential candidate to face Le Pen

by Simon Carraud | Reuters  |  published on November 20, 2016

Nicolas SarkozyPARIS | Conservative presidential hopefuls in France face the judgment of voters in a primary race on Sunday and the victor looks likely to win the presidency in next spring’s election against a resurgent far-right.

With the French left in disarray under the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande, opinion polls suggest that the center-right presidential nominee will meet and defeat the National Front’s eurosceptic, anti-immigration leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff for the Elysee palace next year.

Even so, after Britain’s shock “Brexit” vote and Donald Trump’s surprise U.S. election win, the French presidential vote is shaping up to be another test of strength between weakened mainstream parties and rising populist forces.

Former prime minister Alain Juppe, a moderate conservative, had appeared firmly on track to win the nomination of Les Republicains party. But over the past week the contest has been transformed into a nail-biting three-horse race.

Juppe has lost his lead in opinion polls to a last-minute surge by another former premier, Francois Fillon. Latest surveys show the two now running neck-and neck with former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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