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Hamon gets edge as France Socialists debate once more

Pitching universal income and humane EU debt policy, a former education minister has been declared the winner of the Socialists' final TV debate. The party goes to the polls to pick its presidential candidate on Sunday.

Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents considered 39-year-old former Education Minister Benoit Hamon the most convincing of the seven Socialists who sold themselves one last time to French TV viewers in Thursday's debate, the final of three .

Hamon proposed a universal income, especially for people aged 18 to 25 - those most vulnerable to job market exclusion and its consequences. "The universal income creates work," Hamon told his opponents and French voters on Thursday. "It allows employees to reduce their workdays, and it can further contract and eradicate poverty."

With 28 percent, former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg came in second in the Elabe poll, followed by former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who received 21 percent. Thirty-four percent of left-wing Socialists favored Hamon, ahead of Valls (24 percent) and Montebourg (23 percent). The other candidates were Hamon's fellow former Education Minister Vincent Peillon; Housing Minister Sylvia Pinel, the ecologist Francois de Rougi and the former member of the European Parlimanet Jean-Luc Bennahmias.

Valls had gone into the debate as the party's favorite for the nomination, with 34 percent support. Hamon and Montebourg are polling neck-and-neck for the honor of the Socialists' second favorite.

Up to 2.6 million Socialists may vote in Sunday's primary and the January 29 second round. The winner will face the far-right National Front's Marine Le Pen, the right-wing Republican Francois Fillon and independent Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron in April, with a likely runoff in May. The Socialists are not projected to do well in spring.

Valls opposes proposal

On Thursday, the three leading candidates presented three very different visions for their party. Valls offered a tepid centrism, Montebourg said France should stay its course with Keynesian economics, and Hamon offered an idea that is catching attention across the world.

"The left cannot be associated with taxes, nor with the idea that we give everybody the same," Valls, who receives frequent criticism for his work as prime minister from 2014 to 2016 under unpopular Socialist President Francois Holland, told the audience on Thursday, making his centrist case. Valls said he would stand up to US President-elect Donald Trump, taking the former reality show host to task for his criticism of NATO and for projecting the disintegration of the European Union: "I took seriously what he said. … It was a declaration of political war."

The candidates also pitched protectionism. The most restrictive was Montebourg, who said he would champion a "Made in France" brand and defended his idea to reserve 80 percent of the public markets for national small and midsize enterprises. 

mkg/kl (EFE, Reuters, AFP)

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