French left-wing voters are casting their ballots in a Socialist Party presidential primary to choose a candidate they hope will be strong enough to effectively confront conservative and nationalist rivals in the April-May general election.
Center-leaning former Prime Minister Manuel Valls is a leading contender among seven candidates, but faces formidable challenges from harder-core leftists Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, both former government ministers.
The top two Socialist primary winners advance to a runoff scheduled for next Sunday. But many analysts say the party winner is likely to be ousted in the first round of the presidential election in April, in a country marked by anti-immigrant populism and economic stagnation.
The far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen is generally expected to dominate the first round, reflecting a wider populist backlash in Europe and the U.S., where President Donald Trump took office Friday.
President Francois Hollande declined to seek re-election, fearing his record-low popularity would hurt the Socialists' chances of keeping the presidency.