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Ex-PM Francois Fillon Leads French Conservative Presidential Primary


Candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party primaries ahead of the 2017 presidential election and former French prime minister Francois Fillon delivers a speech at his campaign headquarters, Nov. 20, 2016.

Former French prime minister Francois Fillon appears to be on his way to winning Sunday's conservative party presidential primary.

Early returns give Fillon 44 percent of the vote, followed by ex-prime minister Alain Juppe with 28 percent and former president Nicolas Sarkozy with 21 percent.

If those results hold up, Fillon and Juppe will meet in a runoff next Sunday and the winner will be the conservative candidate for president next year.

Sarkozy has already conceded defeat and says he will throw his support behind Fillon.

"I hold Alain Juppe in high esteem, but I feel closer to Francois Fillon's political choices," Sarkozy said, adding he is not bitter or sad over his defeat.

A first in France

A total of seven candidates ran in Sunday's first round, including far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose criticism of immigration and Muslims resonated with many voters.

This is the first time conservative voters directly chose a presidential candidate. Until now, party leaders picked the contender.

The campaign was marked by concerns about the influx of migrants into Europe and the devastating series of jihadist attacks in France.

After Britain's shock "Brexit" vote and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential contest, the French presidential vote is taking shape to be another test between mainstream parties and rising populist forces.