France’s conservative party yesterday chose the moderate chief of the Paris region Valerie Pecresse to challenge President Emmanuel Macron next year, a pick that will likely have a major influence on the shape of the campaign.
Members of The Republicans (LR) in the primary run-off vote chose Pecresse, 54, who will be its first-ever female presidential candidate, over hardliner Eric Ciotti, party leader Christian Jacob announced.
Both had made the run-off after the first round of voting earlier this week upended expectations.
The favourites ex-minister Xavier Bertrand and former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier were both knocked out and went on to back Pecresse.
“The party of (France’s post-war leader) General (Charles) de Gaulle... our political family, will have a female candidate in the presidential election. I am thinking of all the women of France today. I will give everything to triumph,” she said after the result was announced.
Pecresse, a former minister in the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, won almost 61% of the vote among party members while Ciotti won just over 39%, Jacob said. Ciotti accepted defeat and immediately pledged to support Pecresse. The result is being keenly watched by Macron’s office.
While all opinion polls have predicted centrist Macron should win the election, the emergence of a strong candidate on the traditional right who gains momentum during the campaign would be a major factor.
The campaign has so far been waged on the right, with Macron’s government tacking rightwards over the last months with tough rhetoric on immigration and preserving France’s secular system.
The Republicans failed to make the run-off in 2017, after its candidate Francois Fillon was felled by a graft scandal. But the party, out of power since 2012, makes much of its status as the inheritor of the presidencies of Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac as well as de Gaulle.
“The Republican right-wing is back. It will fight with implacable will. France cannot wait any more,” Pecresse said, promising to make France “respected in the world”.
Striking the tone for a campaign fought on key issues of security and immigration, she added: “I understand the anger of a people who feel powerless against violence, Islamist separatism and uncontrolled immigration.”
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