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French Socialists choose Hamon as presidential candidate amid high turnout

French Socialists have voted for Benoit Hamon to represent them in the country's upcoming presidential election. Among others, he'll be facing Francois Fillon, a candidate confronting troubles of his own.

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Benoit Hamon wins French Socialist Primary

Benoit Hamon secured the French Socialist Party's presidential nomination on Sunday, beating rival Manuel Valls. Initial results gave Hamon 58 percent of the vote and Valls only 42.

Valls officially conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced, saying that Hamon "is the candidate of our political family," and wished him the best of luck.

In a victory speech to supporters, Hamon, 49, spoke of his party's future:  "Tonight, the left raises its head, it turns toward the future, and it wants to win."

Hamon was the more left-wing choice of the two politicians. He supports a universal basic income and wants to reduce the traditional work week to 35 hours. He has also spoken in support of legalizing cannabis and increased investment in renewable energy. Valls, on the other hand, has called himself a more "Clintonite" leftist with a strong belief in pragmatism and individual responsibility.

Organizers of the primary vote, which was a run-off after the field was narrowed down to Hamon and Valls last week, said turnout was quite high. Some 1.3 million party members went to the polls, bringing some much-needed stamina to the beleaguered French left. The latest polls conducted a few ago put the Socialists in fifth place, well behind far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, independent Emmanuel Macron, conservative candidate Francois Fillon and former European lawmaker Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Both Hamon and Valls have held positions in the cabinet of current President Francois Hollande, also a Socialist. Hamon was minister of social economy and briefly national education minister, while Valls was prime minister for two years until he resigned in order to run for president. Hollande's low popularity has been partially blamed for the dismal support for the Socialists, and the president announced in December that he would not seek re-election.

Fillon scandal threatens to derail competition

In the meantime, however, a scandal has erupted around Fillon that might also give the leftists reason to celebrate. After campaigning as the no-nonsense, anti-corruption candidate, allegations have emerged recently suggesting that Fillon paid his wife a generous public salary for a job she never actually held. The Les Republicains candidate said he had filed papwerwork with a judge on Friday proving that his wife had taken meetings, attended events, and completed paperwork in his name during the time in question.

The first round of France's presidential election is set for April 23, to be followed by a run-off between the top two candidates on May 7 if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round. 

es/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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