Socialist outsider and ex-PM Valls head for runoff in presidential primary

Socialist outsider and ex-PM Valls head for runoff in presidential primary

Socialist outsider and ex-PM Valls head for runoff in presidential primary Benoit Hamon, a former Socialist government rebel, won the first round of a primary on Jan. 22, and will meet ex-prime minister Manuel Valls in a runoff to decide who will be the candidate of the beleaguered left in a presidential election in spring. 

Hamon, 49, a traditional left-winger who was sacked from government by President Francois Hollande for criticizing his economic policies, coasted to a comfortable win ahead of Valls, a former Hollande loyalist in government, according to partial results, Reuters reported. 

With the field now whittled down from seven candidates to two and Valls and Hamon set to meet mid-week for what could be a testy televised debate, the final outcome was hard to predict. 

But former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, who trailed in third place, gave Hamon, a party ally on the left, an advantage by criticizing Valls’s pro-business policies and urging his supporters to vote for Hamon Jan. 29. 

Hamon’s key proposal, which would see unemployed and low-income workers receive a monthly payment of between 600 and 750 euros ($795) a month, would entail a costly and radical reform of state spending - some 300 billion euros a year, by Hamon’s own estimates.

He sees basic income as a response to the erosion of jobs caused by the digital revolution, proposing a tax on the wealth created by the use of robots to help underwrite the cost.

“We need a tax system that is based not on the number of workers in our companies but on the wealth created by the company,” Hamon has argued, according to AFP.

Polls indicate Fillon, a former prime minister who has The Republicans ticket, is most likely to win if he is pitted against National Front leader Le Pen in a May 7 head-to-head. 

Either way, opinion polls indicate that no Socialist candidate has much chance of getting beyond the first round of the election in April-May after five years of unpopular rule by Hollande. 

The Socialist party, for decades one of the main political forces in France, has become marginalized as Hollande failed to bring high unemployment down and alienated left-wing voters with his economic policies. 

But the Socialists’ final choice on Jan. 29 could have an impact on the election fortunes of the front-runners for the Elysee - conservative Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and popular independent Emmanuel Macron. 

But Macron, a 39-year-old former banker and one-time economy minister who pushes a centrist agenda and tries to appeal to both left and Right is attracting large crowds to rallies and could yet upset the balance.