Wed, Dec 07, 2016 - Page 7 News List

French PM resigns to enter presidential election

‘RECONCILIATION’:Manuel Valls vowed to take the fight to the right-wing National Front, saying a victory by its leader, Marine Le Pen, would ruin the working class

AFP, PARIS

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was to resign yesterday to free himself to vie for the Socialist nomination in next year’s presidential election.

Announcing his candidacy on Monday, France’s prime minister of the past two-and-a-half years said he would step down to try to rally the fractured left ahead of a primary next month.

French Minister of Health Marisol Touraine and French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve are among those tipped to succeed him for the six months until the next legislative elections.

In a combative speech, 54-year-old Valls vowed to take the fight to the conservative opposition and the National Front, who are both leading the Socialists in election polls.

His announcement came four days after French President Francois Hollande announced that he would bow out after a single term, paving the way for Valls.

“My candidacy is one of reconciliation,” Valls said in a speech from his political base in the tough Paris suburb of Evry.

He warned of the risk of National Front leader Marine Le Pen pulling off a repeat of France’s 2002 electoral upset when her father Jean-Marie Le Pen edged the Socialist candidate for a place in the presidential runoff.

Le Pen’s policies would “ruin the working class,” he said.

Polls show Marine Le Pen winning or being placed second in the opening round of the election on April 23, but later being defeated by conservative leader Francois Fillon.

Valls accused Fillon of rehashing “the old recipes of the 1980s” by promising to cut spending and social programs.

“We’re told that Francois Fillon is the next president of the republic. Nothing is set in stone,” Valls said.

Valls faces an uphill task to unite the divided French left, reeling after four tumultuous years under Hollande.

The prime minister himself is a polarizing figure who has turned off many lifelong Socialists by using decrees to force contested labor reforms through parliament and endorsing controversial bans last summer on the Burqini swimsuit.

His government’s bleak economic record could also clip his wings.

On Monday, he said he wanted to help the working class “regain its dignity” in the face of globalization.

He faces a challenge from at least seven other candidates in the two-round primary on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29.

Martine Aubry, a veteran Socialist and the mayor of the northern city of Lille, on Monday said it was “not a given” that she would back him.

Polls show Valls nonetheless winning the nomination, but trailing in the presidential race, dragged down by competition on the left from business-friendly former French minister of economic affairs Emmanuel Macron, an independent, and Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Party.

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