Mon, Jan 30, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Leftist Hamon faces reformist Valls in Socialists’ primary


France’s Socialists face a stark choice in today’s presidential primary between diehard leftist Benoit Hamon and reformist former prime minister Manuel Valls.

Hamon, the surprise winner of the first round of the Socialist Party’s primary last weekend, has wooed voters with his staunchly leftist proposals, notably the idea of a universal basic income, dismissed as a “mirage” by Valls.

He also wants to legalize marijuana and tax robots that replace workers.

The 49-year-old Hamon, round-faced with a schoolboy haircut, has a crowd-pleasing eagerness that contrasts with the square-jawed assertiveness of Valls, 54, who was interior minister before becoming prime minister.

Hamon joined a rebellion against what he saw as the socialist government’s rightward drift under Valls and President Francois Hollande, quitting as education minister in 2014.

The combative Valls has dismissed him as a dreamer with no hope of becoming president in May.

Socialist voters face a choice between “certain defeat” with Hamon as their nominee and “possible victory” if they chose him, Valls said confidently after the first round.

Yet polls show neither man making it past the first round in the presidential vote in April, with conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron leading the field.

After two-and-a-half years as prime minsiter, Valls believes he is the best-placed to defend France’s interests in the face of a new protectionist world order.

He has been particularly scathing of his rival’s signature proposal for a universal basic income.

“I want nothing of these mirages that evaporate in an instant and that sow disillusionment [and] bitterness,” he told an earlier campaign rally.

Valls’ parents, a Spanish painter father and Swiss-Italian mother, fled the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain to settle in France, though they traveled back to Barcelona for his birth in August 1962. He gained French citizenship when he was 20.

He has four children from his first marriage to a teacher. In 2010 he remarried, to concert violinist Anne Gravoin.

Valls makes no apologies for his pro-business stance and desire to modernize the Socialist Party.

However, his use of decrees to ram through contested economic reforms as prime minister, as well as a failed proposal to strip dual-national terrorists of their French citizenship, alienated many in the party.

Hamon, who hails from western Brittany, is the son of a dockworker father and secretary mother.

He began his political life as a student activist in the 1980s.

In 1986, aged 18, he joined massive student protests against proposed reforms, which then rightwing president Jacques Chirac was forced to withdraw.

A father of two with his partner Gabrielle Guallar, Hamon has a degree in history.

Valls has said “the left could die” unless two “irreconcilable” factions — one pragmatic and open to reforms, the other wedded to the class struggle — unite.

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