January 23, 2017 / 8:09 AM / in 3 years

France's Valls urges big second round turnout as presidential bid stumbles

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called on Monday for a big turnout in the second round of the Socialist primaries after a first round vote made left-wing rival Benoit Hamon frontrunner to represent the party in this year’s presidential election.

Opinion polls show that no Socialist is likely to win the presidency. They make conservative Francois Fillon the favourite, and put Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in second place.

But they also show that a victory for Hamon in next Sunday’s decisive Socialist primaries second round runoff against Valls could expose the centre ground to which Valls hopes to appeal, and thereby boost the presidential prospects of independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

“To all those voters who believe in the Left, do not despair, mobilise,” Valls said on RTL Radio. Late on Sunday he said the choice between Hamon and himself was one of “certain defeat and possible victory” in the presidential election.

Hamon, 49, a traditional leftwinger, was sacked from government by President Francois Hollande in 2014 for criticising his economic policies.

In Sunday’s first round he coasted to a comfortable win ahead of Valls, 54, who represents the more business-friendly second half of Hollande’s term in government.

“I think there is no chance for the left to win unless it can put forward a imaginative and powerful policy against a right that is full-on and an extreme right that is dangerous,” Hamon said on France Inter radio.

Hamon won about 36 percent of the vote to Valls’ 31, according to partial results. The former education minister also secured the backing of Arnaud Montebourg, another left-winger who came in third with 18 percent, and was therefore eliminated along with four other candidates.

Former French Prime Minister and candidate Manuel Valls reacts after the results in the first round of the French left's presidential primary election in Paris, France, January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The outcome of next Sunday’s head-to-head vote remains uncertain though.

This year’s primary is only the second in the history of the Socialist party and its allies. Anyone of voting age can participate, and the first-round turnout involved only between 1.6 and 1.7 million of France’s 44 million-plus voters.

(This refiled version of the story changes Hamon’s age to 49.)

Reporting by Andrew Callus and Yann Le Guernigou; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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