France’s divided Socialists picked leftwinger Benoit Hamon as their presidential nominee Sunday, in the latest twist of a roller-coaster election race that has seen conservative frontrunner Francois Fillon engulfed in scandal.
Near definitive results from a Socialist primary runoff vote Sunday showed Hamon beating his centrist rival Manuel Valls, a former prime minister, with 58.72 percent of the vote in a clear victory for the left-wing of the party.
“Our country needs the left but a modern, innovative left turned towards the future,” the 49-year-old Hamon told cheering supporters in a victory speech.
His triumph is another upset in the French poll race, with the former education minister and son of a dockworker viewed as an outsider only three weeks ago.
His nomination completes the list of major candidates for the two-round election in April and May after five years of unpopular Socialist rule.
Hamon’s rivals include rightwing Republicans nominee Fillon, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, as well as centrist Emmanuel Macron who some analysts see as likely to benefit from the Socialists’ tilt to the left.
Fillon, who was also deemed a long-shot until he clinched the Republicans nomination in November, has consistently been tipped to become France’s next leader.
But his campaign has been in turmoil since Wednesday when a newspaper reported his wife had been paid around 500,000 euros ($540,000) over eight years for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide.
Those allegations have sparked a preliminary judicial inquiry, but there was more bad news for Fillon on Sunday.
Investigative website Mediapart and the Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Fillon had used his parliamentary allowance to pocket up to 25,000 euros while working as a senator from 2005-2007.
A poll by Kantar Sofres-Onepoint published Sunday evening showed Fillon losing ground and Macron gaining.
The survey of 1,032 voters showed Le Pen leading the first round of the election with 25 percent, followed by Fillon with 21 percent and Macron on 20 percent.
While Fillon would easily beat Le Pen in a run-off, he would lose a duel with Macron, the poll showed.