Left-wing rebel surprise winner of French socialist primary

Benoit Hamon unlikely to survive first round of presidential election on April 23rd

Former French minister Benoit Hamon: he   won 36.12 per cent of the ballot, with more than half of the votes counted in the French socialist presidential primary. Former prime minister Manuel Valls  came in second with 31.24 per cent of the vote. Photograph: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Former French minister Benoit Hamon: he won 36.12 per cent of the ballot, with more than half of the votes counted in the French socialist presidential primary. Former prime minister Manuel Valls came in second with 31.24 per cent of the vote. Photograph: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

 

Benoit Hamon, a left-wing rebel who was forced out of the socialist government in August 2014, was the surprise winner of the first round of the socialist presidential primary on Sunday night.

Mr Hamon (49) won 36.12 per cent of the ballot, with more than half of the votes counted. Former prime minister Manuel Valls (54) came in second with 31.24 per cent of the vote. He will face Mr Hamon in the January 29th runoff.

“You have addressed a clear message of hope in the renewal of the left,” Mr Hamon told supporters. He promised to place social questions and ecology at the centre of the presidential campaign.

Mr Valls’s battle became more difficult when Arnaud Montebourg, who came in third with 17.69 per cent of the vote, announced that he will vote for Mr Hamon next Sunday and asked his supporters to do the same.

The remainder of the vote was divided between four other candidates. Voters “have massively, severely condemned [President François Hollande’s] five-year term,” Mr Montebourg said. “Between five and six out of ten voters want the left to return to its natural riverbed. They expressed their concern over the future of labour . . . and protection against abusive globalisation.”

The vote took place exactly five years after Mr Hollande’s speech at Le Bourget, in which he said that “finance is the enemy.” Much of the left-wing electorate feels betrayed by Mr Hollande’s embrace of supply-side economics. Neither Mr Hamon nor Mr Valls is likely to survive the first round of the presidential election on April 23rd.

Polls show the socialist nominee, whoever he is, will come in fifth. But the primary is nonetheless crucial to the future of the beleaguered socialist party. Mr Hamon’s victory is a backlash against the policies of Mr Hollande and Mr Valls, who remained prime minister until his resignation late last year to stand for president.

Fervent opposition

The last year of socialist rule has been marked by fervent opposition to an attempt by Mr Hollande and Mr Valls to revoke the French citizenship of terrorists who hold dual nationality; Mr Valls’s use of section 49.3 of the constitution to pass economic reforms by decree, and street demonstrations against the El Khomri law (named after the labour minister) which diminished the power of trade unions and made it easier to fire workers.

The long-running battle between the anti-European far-left, which is prone to street protest, and the party of government, which has clumsily tried to transform French socialists into German or British-style social democrats, is personified in the Hamon-Valls contest. If Mr Hamon wins next Sunday, it will be comparable to Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the British Labour party.

Whoever wins the socialist primary will face two other left-wing candidates in the first round of the presidential election: the former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is ideologically close to Mr Valls, though the two men dislike each other, and the leader of the far left breakaway party “La France insoumise,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is closer to Mr Hamon.

If Mr Hamon wins the primary, Mr Valls’s voters are likely to vote for Mr Macron on April 23rd. But if Mr Valls wins, Mr Hamon’s supporters will probably support Mr Mélenchon.

Mr Hamon, like François Fillon in the conservative primary, was the “third man” whose victory was not foreseen.

He dominated the short primary campaign with new ideas, in particular his advocacy of a universal base income and a “citizens’ 49.3” that would allow voters to revoke legislation. Other candidates – including Mr Hamon’s new ally, Mr Montebourg – mocked him, but voters, especially young voters, flocked to his rallies.