French Socialists to hold US-style open primary


FRANCE’S SOCIALIST Party (PS) moved a step closer to selecting its candidate to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election when it agreed to hold the first open primary in its history in October.

Nominations for the contest will close in mid-July, marking the start of a three-month campaign culminating in two rounds of voting on October 9th and 16th, the PS confirmed after a meeting of its executive committee. Under a new process modelled partly on the US primary system, all registered left-wing voters will be entitled to take part.

With opinion polls suggesting a number of socialist figures could defeat the unpopular incumbent, Mr Sarkozy, the manoeuvring among prospective PS candidates over the primary calendar has been closely scrutinised.

The outcome is likely to disappoint one of the leading contenders, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose allies had pressed for both the campaign and nomination process to take place at the end of the year. Mr Strauss-Kahn’s term as managing director of the IMF runs until late December, and under the party’s chosen timetable he would be required to step down from his post before November’s G20 summit in Cannes if he wanted to return to politics.

Speaking after the meeting, one of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s closest allies in the party, Jean-François Cambadélis, made little attempt to conceal his dismay. “The people of France will be on holiday on July 13th, and the PS is going to begin its campaign? What are we going to do: tour the beaches?”

Mr Cambadélis also complained that a three-month campaign would be too long, while another Strauss-Kahn loyalist, Jean-Marie Le Guen, said the PS had “shot itself in the foot”.

The timetable was a compromise proposed by party general secretary Martine Aubry, who needed to balance Mr Strauss-Kahn’s desire for a late campaign against other senior figures’ insistence that the process be brought forward. Three declared candidates for the nomination – Ségolène Royal, Manuel Valls and Arnaud Montebourg – lobbied for the selection process to be completed before the summer, as did the party’s former leader François Hollande.

It is widely believed that Mr Strauss-Kahn and Ms Aubry have agreed that they will not stand against each other, but the primary timetable has raised speculation that their pact may be fraying. “It’s time that Dominique descended back into the atmosphere,” Ms Aubry was quoted as telling the executive committee by yesterday’s Le Monde.

The head of the IMF is precluded from getting involved in national politics, and his silence over whether or not he plans to return to the domestic fray this year has fed months of rumour and intrigue within the party.