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France

French left-wing voters cast ballots in fiercely competitive presidential primary

Voting has ended in France where Socialists have been choosing two candidates to compete in a runoff at the end of the month. Surveys suggest that the final winner will have little chance of entering the Elysee Palace.

Polls have closed in France after the nation's Socialists voted to reduce their list of seven presidential candidates to two.

The leading contender in Sunday's vote was former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, but he is facing fierce competition from candidates further to the left of the political spectrum, such as former Education Minister Benoit Hamon and former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg.

The winners of this first round will then advance to a runoff on January 29 that will decide who will run for president on the Socialist ticket in April and May - with polls indicating, however, that no Socialist candidate stands any great chance of succeeding current President Francois Hollande.

Socialist Hollande himself has declined to seek re-election, as his popularity hits record lows.

French politician Manuel Valls attends the first prime-time televised debate (picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Wojazer)

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has led pre-vote polls, but has little chance of winning the final election

Surveys suggest that the most likely scenario for the two-round presidential election is for conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon to emerge as a winner in a runoff against far-right national Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Popular independent candidate

Support for the Socialist candidate will possibly also be drawn away by popular independent Emmanuel Macron, who shares some of the pro-business strategies of Valls and is seen as attracting the same kind of middle ground voters.

Polls say Macron could make it into a presidential runoff, and even potentially win it, if a harder-core leftist such as Montebourg or Hamon gains the Socialist nomination.

French Economy and Industry minister Emmanuel Macron arrives to visit the Rauschmaier insulation workshop (Getty Images/AFP/S. Bozon)

In the presidential run-offs independent Emmanuel Macron will likely draw support away from the Socialist candidate

Although support for the Socialist party, long a powerful force in French politics, has been severely eroded under Hollande's presidency, party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis is showing no signs of giving up.

"The death knell of the Socialist party has been rung too early," he told the newspaper "Le Parisien."

All those who espouse the political values of the left and pay a one-euro fee are eligible to vote in the primary, with Cambadelis saying a turnout of between 1.5 and 2 million of France's 44 million voters could be considered as a success.

Polling stations are due to close at 7 p.m. local time.

tj/aw (AP, Reuters)

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