- French Socialists nominated Benoît Hamon, a former education minister, as their presidential candidate on Sunday.
- Hamon got 58 percent support in a second voting round against 41 percent for his opponent, the former prime minister Manuel Valls.
- Hamon is to the left of the party. His signature policies are the legalization of marijuana and the introduction of a universal basic income.
- His nomination suggests the Socialists have little hope of winning the elections in April and May. Valls, a social democrat, was the more electable candidate.
Turnout down one million
Turnout was around 1.6 million in the first voting round last week, a full million lower than turnout in the left’s first presidential primary five years ago and 2.7 million lower than turnout in the Republican primary in November.
Put that together with the historic unpopularity of the incumbent president, François Hollande and it becomes clear that French voters aren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of another Socialist Party head of state.
From backbencher to top contender
Until this year, Hamon was something of a backbencher. He worked under Martine Aubry, the architect of France’s 35-hour workweek and a powerful figure in the Socialist Party, in the 1990s, which gave him prestige. But he also kept to the left of the party, which meant he wasn’t seriously considered for government jobs. Hamon’s tenure as education minister lasted only four months. He resigned when Hollande decided on a more social democratic policy with the appointment of Valls, a reformer.
Hamon’s signature policies are a universal basic income, financed by a tax on robots, and the legalization of marijuana.
He split 53 percent support with Arnaud Montebourg, another far-left candidate, in the first voting round last week.
Montebourg endorsed Hamon after placing third, giving the younger man a serious chance to defeat Valls today.
Has the left given up?
Comparisons between Hamon, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are imprecise. Montebourg had more in common with the British Labour Party leader. Both are nostalgic for the times when blue-collar jobs paid well, trade unions were powerful and the welfare state was at its most generous. Hamon is more forward-looking.
Which is not to say Hamon is more electable. If there is one thing he has in common with Corbyn and Sanders, it’s that all three are unable to win national elections.
Many Democrats who supported Sanders in the primaries last year probably calculated that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination anyway. They saw a little risk in voting for Sanders.
Likewise, many Labour voters in the United Kingdom and many Socialists in France know that their party is not going to win the next election, so why not support a candidate they can get excited about?
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1.3 million have voted
More than 1.3 million had voted in the runoff at 5 PM local time, organizers said. Around the same time last week, one million leftwingers had voted.
Hamon victory could help Macron
A victory for Hamon today could hardly come at a better moment for the independent center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron.
Earlier this week, it emerged that the Republican candidate, François Fillon, had paid his wife around €500,000 from parliamentary funds over a period of eight years for an assistant’s job. It’s unclear if she did the work.
Fillon maintains the couple did nothing wrong and that, “Without the work my wife carried out I would not be where I am now.”
But voters don’t seem to be persuaded. An Odoxa poll shows that only 38 percent still have a favorable opinion of Fillon — a drop of 16 points from a poll carried out in November by Ifop-Fiducial.
Fillon has threatened to abandon his presidential ambitions if he and his wife are placed under official investigation.
That would allow the Republicans to replace him, perhaps with Fillon’s primary rival, Alain Juppé, who would stand a good chance of winning the presidency as well.
But if Fillon stays in the race and questions about his trustworthiness linger, it could convince reform-minded voters to throw their support behind Macron instead.
Both Fillon and Macron are calling for liberal economic reforms that successive left- and right-wing governments have neglected to implement.
Ifop estimates that turnout will come in at two million, which would be down from 2.8 million in the second voting round five years ago.
On Twitter, the hashtag radiolondres is used to circumvent French election law, which forbids the publishing of (partial) results while voting is underway. The expectation is that Hamon will prevail.
With partial results in from 60 percent of the polling places, Hamon leads with 58.6 percent support against 31.3 for Valls.
That was quick. Manuel Valls has conceded. Benoît Hamon is officially the Socialist Party’s presidential nominee.
Hunger for change
Tony Barber argues in the Financial Times that Hamon’s victory highlights a hunger for political change after the disappointments of President François Hollande’s five years in office.
This mood is not limited to the left, though. It stretches across the French political spectrum, Barber points out, and makes the election’s outcome difficult to predict.