France politics: Quick View - Benoît Hamon ahead after PS primary first round

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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On January 22nd the ruling Parti socialiste (PS) held the first round of a primary election to select its candidate for the April presidential election. Benoît Hamon received the largest share of the vote (36%), followed by Manuel Valls (31%) and Arnaud Montebourg (18%), with the remaining four candidates securing a very small share. Mr Hamon and Mr Valls will contest the second-round run-off on January 29th.


The primary election had been billed as a test of the PS's popularity, given deep public dissatisfaction with the current PS president, François Hollande (who decided not to seek re-election). Initial estimates indicate that between 1.5m and 2m people voted in the primary, more than some had expected, but much lower than the 2.7m who voted in the PS primary election in 2011 and a fraction of the 4.3m who voted in the primary for the opposition Les Républicains in November.

The run-off vote will have important implications for the PS's upcoming policy direction, as well as broader ramifications for the other candidates contesting the presidential election. Mr Valls is a centrist, urging further labour market reforms; whereas Mr Hamon is further to the left, advocating a reduction in the working week (to 32 hours) and a universal basic monthly income of EUR750. The eventual result will be influenced by how both men fare in a final televised debate on January 26th, but Mr Hamon currently appears the favourite to win, as he will pick up votes from the other left-wing candidates, most notably Mr Montebourg, who was quick to acknowledge defeat and urge his supporters to vote for Mr Hamon.

We now expect Mr Hamon (rather than Mr Valls) to secure the PS candidacy, but maintain that he stands little chance of reaching the second round of the presidential election. However, this has implications for our broader political forecast, as it opens up the centre ground available to Emmanuel Macron, an independent, who recent polls suggest could win around 20% of the vote. Although our core forecast remains that the second-round run-off in May will be between François Fillon of Les Républicains and Marine Le Pen of the Front national (FN), should Mr Macron manage to maintain his current momentum, he could pose a credible challenge to the two front-runners.

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