Francois Fillon, a champion of free-market reforms, won France’s center-right presidential primaries on Sunday, setting up a likely showdown next year with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
With ballots from four-fifths of polling stations counted, Fillon had won over 67 percent of the vote in a head-to-head battle with another ex-prime minister, Alain Juppe, Reuters reports.
“I must now convince the whole country our project is the only one that can lift us up,” Fillon said at his campaign headquarters after Juppe conceded defeat.
All eyes now turn to the ruling Socialist party and to whether President Francois Hollande will decide to run for the left-wing ticket in his party’s primaries in January.
France, the euro zone’s second largest economy, has faced stubbornly high unemployment under Hollande.
The past two years of his term have also been marked by Islamist militant attacks that have killed 230 people and focused attention on immigration and security concerns.
Opinion polls suggest neither Hollande nor any left-wing candidate would make the second round of the presidential election next May.
That would leave Fillon with a clear run at the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Le Pen that the surveys predict him to win.
Fillon, 62, came from behind in opinion polls over the past two weeks.
In last week’s first round Les Republicains party primary he knocked out former president Nicolas Sarkozy, under whom he served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, and pushed Juppe into second place.
A racing car enthusiast, Fillon promises radical reforms to France’s regulation-encumbered economy, vowing to roll back the state and slash government’s bloated costs.
The Socialist primaries are due to take place in January. Hollande has two weeks in which to decide whether to take part and run for re-election.
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