France - Politics

Early polls after TV debate point to Hamon as Socialist winner

A campaign poster for Benoit Hamon, candidate in the French Socialist party presidential primaries, is seen on a wall in Paris, France, January 20, 2017.
A campaign poster for Benoit Hamon, candidate in the French Socialist party presidential primaries, is seen on a wall in Paris, France, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Hardline French Socialist Benoit Hamon was seen as more convincing in a television debate on Wednesday with ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls ahead of a runoff vote at the weekend.


The survey, conducted for BFM TV shortly after the debate wconducted by Elabe, found 60 percent of those polled found Hamon more convincing compared with 37 percent for Valls.

Hamon Vs. Valls
Hamon, a former education minister who was kicked out of Valls' government in 2014 for differences on economic policy, won the first round of the party primary vote on Sunday with Valls coming in second.

French Socialist Benoit Hamon urged voters to support his bold leftist ideas for revitalising the country on Wednesday as his party prepares to pick its presidential candidate this weekend.

In the final televised debate with his rival, ex-prime minister Manuel Valls, Hamon urged the left to "turn its back on the old regime, at these solutions that didn't work yesterday and won't work in the future."

Hamon, 49, has emerged as the surprise frontrunner to lead the Socialists into elections in April and May after their five years in power which has seen their popularity plummet.

Whoever clinches the nomination on Sunday would finish a humiliating fifth if the vote was held today, polls suggest, as the country grapples with low growth and fears about terrorism and immigration.

Hamon has pitched himself as a man of fresh ideas, promising to bring in universal basic income -- a state handout to all adults, irrespective of income -- and new environmental protections.

He also wants to tax robots to raise income, legalise cannabis, introduce stricter rules to ban more chemical products, and introduce a new corps of state inspectors to combat discrimination.

"I accept saying that we can have bigger deficits," Hamon said when asked about the impact of his plans on public finances, which were last balanced in France in the 1970s.

Valls, a tough-talking prime minister under unpopular President Francois Hollande until December, has portrayed Hamon as a dreamer who would condemn the left to certain defeat.

"It's not enough to make people dream, you need to be credible," he said in one of several sharp exchanges between the former cabinet colleagues.

Valls underlined how Hamon's programme, which also includes building a second aircraft carrier, was unthinkable without major tax increases.

In a pithy put-down to his former education minister, Valls said he wanted to be the "candidate for your payslip", while Hamon would be the "candidate for the tax form."

Two factions

Hamon won the first round of voting in the Socialist primary last weekend, with 36 percent of the vote, and has since picked up an endorsement from third-placed Arnaud Montebourg.

The battle in the second-round run-off this Sunday has been widely depicted as a struggle between the centrist, pro-business wing of the party represented by Valls and the leftist faction behind Hamon.

Regardless of who wins Sunday's runoff, polls suggest neither stands much chance of getting past the first round of France's April-May presidential election after five years of unpopular rule by Francois Hollande.


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