On Sunday 29 January, France’s Socialists picked left-winger Benois Hamon as their candidate for president, however it is unlikely that them over will help them with the election. It could however boost the campaign of popular independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.
With 60 percent of the votes in the Socialists’ primary counted, the ex-education minister had won 58.65 percent against his rival Manuel Valls, a former prime minister who is closer to the centre ground and who embraces pro-business policies. The Socialists, which have been weakened and divided after the deeply unpopular presidency of Francois Hollande, have been given next to no chance of getting beyond the first round of the election in April. However by choosing the 49-year-old Hamon on Valls, they have given Macron a big group of middle-ground voters to aim at and a better chance of beating his close rivals on the right and far-right.
Sunday’s results have also shown the deep fractures in the Socialist camp. It takes the party back to the traditional pro-worker roots, which got Hollande elected in 2012 and it rejects the U-turn that he made mid-way through his mandate – the as-yet unsuccessful bid to jump-start growth and jobs by forcing through business-friendly reforms. Analysts are now warning that if Hamon fails to make an impact on the campaign, where the Socialist candidate trails behind four others in opinion polls, it could lead to the party having very little say for the next five years or even lead to tis breaking-up.
The Socialist primary effectively provided the last candidate for the election and the battle lines are now sharply drawn in the race for the two-stage election, which will be held on 23 April and 7 May. Conservative Francois Fillon, the Republicans’ candidate, and far-right leader Marine Le pen are still seen by opinion polls as being able to meet in the May runoff. However Fillon’s campaign has been thrown of track by a press report accusing him of employing his wife as a parliamentary assistant on a big salary without doing any work. He has denied the charges. Opinion polls have also shown that the campaign of Mr Macron is also gathering momentum, with analysts noting that he could still upset the balance. Th centrist former economy ministers says that he wants to bridge the Left and the Right and has shunned any party patronage. Political campaigners have indicated that the Socialists’ choice of Hamon, a traditional left-winger, will only favor Macron’s campaign, noting that supporters of the business-friendly policies, who like Macron has steered centrist policies, are likely to give their vote now to the popular former banker.