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French Socialists Set to Pick Candidate to Challenge Sarkozy

France’s Socialist Party supporters will choose their candidate on Oct. 16 to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in the May 2012 elections.

Francois Hollande, 57, leads the race, having gotten the most votes in the first round of the party’s primaries. His rival for the party’s nomination, former Labor Minister Martine Aubry, 61, has criticized him for his lack of experience. Hollande has never served in a government.

“They haven’t shown any major differences in their proposals,” said Erwan Lestrohan, a pollster at Paris-based LH2 Institute. “She is more left-wing, he is more centrist.”

Aubry may struggle to close the 8.8 percentage-point gap that separated her from Hollande in the first round. Polls show that Hollande would win the presidential elections if they were held now. Sarkozy has yet to declare his intention to seek a second term.

The two finalists’ positions have taken a more socially focused and protectionist twist in the final days of their campaigns, mirroring the stance of Arnaud Montebourg, who came in third and whose supporters they seek. The lawmaker advocates “de-globalization,” and calls for a move toward re-nationalizing French banks and more financial regulation.

“Mathematically, Hollande should win but Aubry’s odds may get a boost from voters who believe in a more left-wing candidate and who voted for Arnaud Montebourg last Sunday,” said Lestrohan.

Aubry, who suggested Hollande would represent the “soft left,” accused him of having a right-wing bent.

“It always disturbs me when a man of the left uses the terminology of the right,” she told RTL radio yesterday after their final televised debate Oct. 12.

‘Banks Must Pay’

In the debate, they both said the state must take greater control of banks and called for increased regulation of global financial transactions. They said the country’s banks should be under state guardianship if they receive government aid.

Hollande said also that he sees a Greek default before the end of the year. Aubry said “the banks must pay” for their Greek investments. Both called for increased global regulation and barriers to trade if countries, including China, don’t respect commercial and environmental rules.

Hollande declined to call for increased taxes on wealthy people on Oct. 12, while Aubry suggested that she would add a new tax bracket for those earning more than 250,000 euros per year ($343.000).

Hollande Leads

Sixty-one percent of French people say Hollande, who heads the local council of Correze in central France, is more likely to bring the Socialist Party back to power, 17 years after their last presidential victory. That compares to 43 percent of the voters who say Aubry, the mayor of the northern city of Lille, will be the winner.

Hollande, the former head of the Socialist Party, secured his lead this week with the backing of three of the four candidates defeated in the first round.

Segolene Royal, the French 2007 Socialist presidential candidate, called on her supporters yesterday to vote for Hollande in the second round. Montebourg, who said he won’t give his voters instructions, may unveil his personal choice before the vote.

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