February 18, 2016 / 1:43 PM / a year ago

French left must agree a candidate for presidential election - Hollande's party chief

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French President Francois Hollande accompanies guests at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 17, 2016.Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party on Thursday called for all of France's left-wing parties to agree on a single presidential candidate for 2017, raising the rare prospect of a sitting president having to contest a primary.

The outgoing French president traditionally represents his party in the next election, without a contest. But Hollande's ratings are so poor that, as things stand, he appears unlikely to beat either far-right leader Marine Le Pen or the single runner chosen by the centre-right to qualify for the runoff.

"We need primaries that encompass the whole Left. It's unavoidable ... it's the only way for us to win the presidential election," Jean-Christophe Cambadelis told BFM TV.

Opinion polls indicate that Le Pen will qualify for the runoff in first place, leaving only one spot for either a left-wing or a conservative candidate. The conservative bloc is to hold a primary election in November to come up with a single candidate.

According to a Cevipof Ipsos poll last month, Hollande would not qualify as things stand, partly because 14 to 15 percent of votes would go to candidates to the left of the Socialist party, including the Greens and Communists.

France's far-right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen talks during a news conference at the end of the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" meeting in Milan, January 29, 2016.Alessandro Garofalo

"If the Left is divided, we will be eliminated in the first round," said Cambadelis, who had indicated over the past few weeks that he was coming round to the idea of a primary.

Hollande himself has so far dodged direct questions on the issue.

While the Greens party is in favour of primaries encompassing the entire left-wing spectrum, leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon said last week that he would run in the election proper and ruled out taking part in primaries.

Melenchon is credited with around 9 percent support, which would most likely be enough in itself to scupper Hollande's chances of making the presidential runoff if Melenchon does not submit to a primary.

Hollande last week included the heads of two smaller left-wing parties in his cabinet to prepare for 2017.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander; and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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