The French right-wing party organizes a presidential primary – .

The French right-wing party organizes a presidential primary – .

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        <span class="t-location">Paris (AFP) - </span>Les membres du principal parti républicain de droite en France ont commencé à voter mercredi pour choisir leur candidat aux élections de l'année prochaine, le concours étant considéré comme grand ouvert après une campagne axée sur l'immigration et la sécurité.        </p><div>

        <p>Les sondages indiquent actuellement que l'ancien ministre de la Santé Xavier Bertrand est le candidat le mieux placé pour renverser le président Emmanuel Macron, mais le modéré de 56 ans a bouleversé de nombreux militants de base en quittant le parti en 2017.

Other candidates include former European Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, the head of the Paris region Valérie Pécresse – the only woman in the race – as well as the mayor and doctor Philippe Juvin.

Southern far-right MP Eric Ciotti has distinguished himself in four televised debates in recent weeks with his hardline stance on immigration, proposals for a French “Guantanamo” prison for Islamist terrorism suspects and a tax 15% flat rate on companies.

His views are closest to far-right television scholar and author Eric Zemmour, who officially launched his presidential bid on Tuesday, seeking to outflank veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen with her anti-Islam views. and anti-immigration.

The 150,000 or so members of the Republican Party, whose roots go back to French war hero Charles de Gaulle, vote electronically, with the results of the first ballot due to be announced Thursday afternoon.

The two top-ranked candidates will advance to a second round, with the winner declared on Saturday.

In the absence of a poll among party members, the race is considered wide open.

Right-wing newspaper Figaro said Republicans must offer an alternative to Zemmour’s “mixture of daring and brutality” who brought the immigration issue to the fore.

“For the right, the challenge is historic: to respond with firmness, serenity, consistency, experience and courage – which it sorely lacked – to this existential anxiety,” the newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

A final prime-time debate between the contenders took place Tuesday evening on France 2, each of them having been invited to comment on Zemmour’s candidacy, whose polls show that it appeals to a significant number of conservative Republicans.

“Eric Zemmour is not my kind of right winger,” said Bertrand, the boss of the northeast region of Hauts-de-France.

Pecresse, the head of the Ile-de-France region which includes Paris, also sought to push back Zemmour, claiming she was a “woman of solutions” against a “man of provocations”.

Ciotti was the only candidate in the debate not to reject Zemmour’s darkly pessimistic election campaign video that linked immigration to crime and Islamism, saying it contained “ideas shared by many French people.”

Republicans have been out of power at the national level since 2012 when former President Nicolas Sarkozy lost his candidacy for a second term, but they retain control of many regional assemblies and constitute the largest opposition bloc in parliament.

Their candidate in the last presidential election in 2017, former Prime Minister François Fillon, started off as the frontrunner but saw his campaign derail with sordid allegations that included his wife’s fraudulent employment as parliamentary assistant.

Macron’s centrist party, Republic on the Move, has turned many moderate conservatives away from Republicans, as well as important figures such as Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.



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