PARIS - France may have gotten a preview of its next president as former prime minister Francois Fillon coasted to victory Sunday in the country’s first U.S.-style conservative primaries, getting 68 percent of the votes. But he faces a tough challenge from the far-right in next spring's presidential elections, reflecting a broader tide surging across Europe.
It was a battle of two former prime ministers, and at the end, 62-year-old dark horse candidate Fillon won it by a landslide, beating out former favorite Alain Juppe 68 to percent.
Speaking to his supporters, Fillon described both the ruling left and the far right as failures and vowed to win over a broader French electorate.
Until a few weeks ago, few believed Fillon had a chance of winning. But his campaign stressing family values, and radical economic change has caught fire in a struggling country. Some compare him with Britain’s tough and controversial former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Fillon also wants to engage Russia and work with Syrian president Bashar-al Assad in fighting the Islamic State group, contrary to current French policy under Socialist President Francois Hollande.
Likely face-off with Le Pen
Widely unpopular, Hollande has not yet declared if he will run for reelection next April. But many experts have already written off a leftist victory. That makes far right leader Marine Le Pen Fillon’s biggest challenger in a European Union buffeted by Brexit and other anti-immigrant, anti-EU trends.
At a polling station in northern Paris, Yann Fauchois cast his ballot for Fillon, saying the tough cuts he has proposed are necessary for France.
“My personal interest is not to vote for Fillon. But my view of the common good of the country conpells me to vote Francois Fillon.”
Chef and local lawmaker Babette de Rozieres was still undecided, minutes before voting.
She said the conservative pick must keep Le Pen and her National Front party from winning next year’s elections. Everyone must be behind him, she added.