Pécresse emerges as favourite to win French centre-right’s presidential ticket

File photo. Ile-de-France region president Valerie Pecresse delivers a speech during a political rally as part of her campaign for the 2021 Regional Elections in Paris, France, 24 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

Valérie Pécresse, a veteran politician who served as minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, will go into a runoff as favourite to be picked as the centre-right Les Républicains’ candidate in the French presidential election in April.

Pécresse will face Eric Ciotti, a staunch right-winger among the party ranks, in the runoff. The winner will head the party’s bid to return to power for the first time in a decade.

In a surprise result in the first round on Thursday (2 December), Ciotti came first among the five challengers with 25.6% of votes cast by registered members. Pécresse, who heads the greater Paris region, took 25%.

French centre-right contenders in final push ahead of presidency choice

Five contenders from France’s conservative Republicans party crossed swords in a final debate on Tuesday (30 December) ahead of party members choosing its candidate to take on President Emmanuel Macron in next year’s elections.

However, Pécresse emerged as favourite in the runoff as the three other candidates swiftly threw their support behind her. The winner will be declared on Saturday afternoon.

Ciotti entered the race as an unfancied runner but his no-nonsense talk on restoring the state’s authority, defending France’s national identity and promoting economic liberalism struck a chord with members.

“I wanted to ensure this campaign was based on the truth, the truth about this country’s decline,” Ciotti told reporters.

The centre-right, which traces its origins back to Charles de Gaulle, dominated French politics for much of the post-war era but has struggled to heal divides and recast its identity since President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 election win redrew the political landscape.

The eventual candidate’s challenge will be to carve out a space in a crowded field on the political right.

Opinion polls before the party’s first-round vote showed Ciotti would perform weakest of the five in the April presidential election, with 6% voter support nationally.

They projected Pécresse would win 10%, behind Macron and two far-right leaders, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.

Xavier Bertrand, who voter surveys had shown would pose the biggest danger to Macron in a runoff vote, came fourth in the party vote with 22.4% of support.

Xavier Bertrand emerges as centre-right challenger for French presidency

Xavier Bertrand, a one-time insurance salesman from the French provinces, established himself as a leading contender for next year’s presidential election, after his centre-right bloc out-performed rivals in regional votes at the weekend.

Michel Barnier, the former EU official in charge of the Brexit talks, came third with 24%.

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