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French politics Manuel Valls Benoît Hamon Primary elections

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French Socialist primaries down to final two candidates in 'battle for the left'

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Benoît Hamon, left and former prime minister Manuel Valls, right. Joel Sagat /AFP

France held the first round of its left-wing presidential primary on Sunday, with former education minister and Socialist "rebel" Benoît Hamon coming in first with roughly 36% of the vote. Former prime minister Manuel Valls came in second, with around 31%. Nearly 2 million voters participated.


Manuel Valls' headquarters at the Maison de l'Amérique Latine in central Paris erupts into cheers as he walks into the room, with the crowd chanting "we will win". The results of the first round of the primary organised by France's ruling Socialist Party have just been announced, and the former prime minister will advance to the second and final round next Sunday.

However, Valls did not come in first place, but second, with 5% less votes than his rival Benoît Hamon.

It’s a mitigated victory for the former prime minister, who has promoted himself as the most realistic and experienced candidate amongst his 6 opponents.

Law professor Fabrice Mucci, who is attending the event at Valls headquarters, shares this sentiment. "When Manuel Valls was prime minister, he had to wrestle against terrorism, unemployment rates, and very important problems like that for the French people," he says.

"I think that the French people see Manuel Valls as president more than Benoît Hamon," he adds.

Disagreement over universal basic income

Though some French people say that Valls is more presidential than Hamon, he has still struggled to counter the growing momentum of his rival, who is campaigning for a universal basic income.

This idea, that the government should unconditionally and regularly pay a sum of money to all citizens regardless of income, became the central talking point of the three debates leading up to the first round vote.

Valls opposes establishing a universal basic income, instead calling for a “decent income” by raising the minimum wage.

Michaël Delance, a Socialist Party activist, thinks that the most important aspect of Valls' platform is that it is "real, not utopian".

"Benoît Hamon sells dreams. It's not the same for Manuel Valls,' he adds.

Valls struggling to leave his past behind

Valls’s campaign has called for investing more in education, reducing taxes for the middle and working classes, gender equality and maintaining France’s secular values.

But it’s not his campaign platform that has bothered some voters; it’s the fact that he served as interior and prime minister under current president François Hollande, who has one of the lowest approval ratings in modern French history.

Valls's approval ratings also went down after he forcibly passed controversial labour reforms, which had sparked nationwide protests, without parliament's approval last year.

A film director who wishes to remain anonymous thinks that Valls as president will not be the same as Valls prime minister.

"Prime minister isn’t the same as president, it’s completely different. The prime minister serves the president," she says.

"I think Hollande didn’t have a global vision, he was doing things with no conviction. But Valls has a real vision of what France can be, and I’m proud of what he can propose," she adds.

Valls and Hamon will face off in one last debate this week before the second and final round of the left-wing primary next Sunday. Whoever comes out on top after next week's vote will be on the presidential ballot this spring.