France politics: Quick View - No clear frontrunner after first PS debate

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, News Analysis
Political Geography


The primary election on January 22nd, in which the ruling Parti socialiste (PS) will select its candidate for the April presidential election, is shaping up to be a close race. In the first of three televised debates between the seven candidates on January 12th there was no clear winner, with three of the seven performing relatively well.


A flash poll conducted by Elabe immediately after the debate showed that 29% of viewers considered Arnaud Montebourg the most convincing candidate, followed by Manuel Valls (26%) and Benoît Hamon (20%). However, in terms of voting intentions, Mr Valls was slightly ahead of Mr Montebourg. Mr Valls, who resigned as prime minister in December to launch his primary campaign, was initially considered the frontrunner to secure the PS candidacy, but his lead has narrowed in early January.

An eloquent performance by Mr Montebourg, a previous economy minister who is further to the left than most of the other PS candidates, suggests that he poses the most significant threat to Mr Valls's hopes of securing the candidacy. However, there is much to play for, with two other televised debates scheduled for mid-January. Mr Hamon-a previous education minister who also opposed the policy shift of François Hollande, the outgoing president-also performed well. Given that the eventual victor in the opposition Les Républicains' primary election, François Fillon, was trailing in third place after the first televised debate, Mr Hamon could still pose a challenge.

Whereas the debates for the centre-right candidates showed a broad consensus regarding policy, the centre-left candidates are quite divided. Mr Montebourg and Mr Hamon are on the left of the political spectrum, whereas Mr Valls is much more centrist, staunchly defending his pro-business stance and the decisions he took in office. Both Mr Montebourg and Mr Hamon stated that they would repeal a controversial labour reform pushed through parliament without a vote in 2016. Mr Hamon defended his proposal of introducing a so-called "universal income" (a fixed monthly payment to all residents rather than the current array of "allocations"), whereas Mr Montebourg defended a planned super-tax on banks.

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