Voting starts in France’s left-wing presidential primary

Paris, Jan 22 (IANS) The first round of France’s Left primary kicked off on Sunday morning with the competition to be a three-horse race among former Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his main rivals Arnaund Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, both former ministers in his government in 2014.

About two million voters are expected to cast their ballots in 7,530 poll stations across the country from 9.00 to 19.00 (local time) to pick a presidential nominee, Xinhua news agency reported.

Valls, a centrist politician, who is seeking to attract middle ground voters, has been the polls’ favourite to snatch the left ticket. However, the race is tightening in its final days.

Montebourg and Hamon who quit the government to protest their pro-liberal policy, are gaining momentum days before the vote. The three leading candidates are almost neck-and-neck with the result remaining unpredictable.

A recent poll showed Valls coming the first in the first round with 32 per cent of the vote against Hamon’s 27 per cent and Montebourg’s 26 per cent.

Two of the seven contenders who will garner the highest vote in the first round will meet in a head-to-head context next Sunday.

Casting his ballot in Every, southeastern Paris, Valls called on the French people to massively turn to poll stations. “It is the French who must decide.”

Montebourg, a former economy minister, said before casting his ballot that he asked for a “strong mandate to be able to bring the Left together”.

Hamon, who’s gaining momentum unexpectedly, also called for a high turnout of voters, saying “if the turnout is high, it will give legitimacy to the one who will be elected”.

The Socialists and the broader Left, which has dominated France’s political landscape for decades, was weakened due to high unemployment and rising security concerns in the five years in power.