Candidates from opposing wings of France’s Socialist Party emerged as the top two vote-getters in the first round of the country’s leftist primary, reflecting the divisions hobbling the party’s attempt to select a successor to President François Hollande.
Benoît Hamon, a lawmaker who hails from the left of the Socialist party and who has centered his campaign on a plan to create a universal basic income, took the largest share of Sunday’s vote with 35.2%, according to a count from around a third of polling stations.
Manuel Valls, a pro-business reformer who was Mr. Hollande’s minister until December, took the second-largest share with 31.6%, according to the partial count.uy
With a clear lead over third-place finisher Arnaud Montebourg, who received 18.7% of the vote, Mr. Hamon and Mr. Valls will proceed to a closely watched runoff vote Jan. 29.
Mr. Montebourg, a firebrand leftist and former economy minister, called for his supporters to back Mr. Hamon.
The resurging divisions between leftists and reformists in the Socialist Party helped to dampen turnout in the primary.
Between 1.5 million and 2 million people voted in the first round on Sunday, compared with 4.3 million in the first round of the center-right primary in November.
While polls have shown that either Mr. Hamon or Mr. Valls would be knocked out in the early stages of the general election, the outcome of the Socialists’ runoff still has the potential to scramble the math of the two-round presidential vote April 22 and May 6.
If the Socialist Party selects Mr. Hamon—a former education minister in Mr. Hollande’s government who has a narrow appeal among the general electorate—the opening widens for Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister and investment banker who is running outside of the primary on a center-left program similar to Mr. Valls’.
Mr. Macron, who is branding himself as a bipartisan candidate, could garner 21% of the first-round vote in the general election if Mr. Valls is out of the race, according to a poll of 10,986 voters by Ipsos Sopra Steria in mid-January. That would put him in striking distance of the front-runners, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who led the survey with 26% of the projected vote, and center-right candidate François Fillon, who scored 25%.
But if Mr. Valls is the victor of the Socialist primary’s second round, the center-left vote would be split, reducing Mr. Macron’s first-round score to 19%, the poll shows.
The campaign for the leftist primary has highlighted deep splits on the French left that were only briefly overcome when Mr. Hollande was elected in 2012.
The unity that Mr. Hollande built around his 2012 campaign fell apart two years later when Mr. Hamon and Mr. Montebourg clashed with the president over economic policy. Mr. Hollande ejected them both from the government, and Mr. Valls remained with the task of pushing through pro-business measures.
Mr. Hollande’s popularity, though, continued to decline, reaching lows for a French president. In December, he said he wouldn’t run for re-election.
Mr. Valls quickly announced he would run, but had little time to prepare a program and repeatedly clashed with Mr. Hamon and Mr. Montebourg during the debates.
22 January 2017
The Wall Street Journal