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27 Nov, 2016 18:58

'I will defend France's values': Fillon convincingly beats Juppe in center-right primaries

The moderate Alain Juppe has conceded defeat after being overwhelmingly beaten in the French Republican primaries by the right-winger Francois Fillon in a well-attended national vote.

"France can't bear its decline. It wants truth and it wants action," said Fillon in his victory speech, as supporters chanted "Fillon President!" repeatedly. "I defend France's values. Our rebirth will be the work of everyone."

"Our aims will be employment, growth, justice, to fight fanatics who declared war on France," he continued, before the crowd burst into a rendition of the Marseillaise.

Provisional results from 9,421 voting stations out of 10,228 gave Fillon 66.9 percent of the vote, and Juppe 33.1.

In his concession speech, Juppe, who staged a symbolic handshake with the winner in front of clicking cameras, said that he would offer “full support” to his rival, and wished Fillon “good luck” in the presidential election next year, where he is currently predicted to face Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader.

Observers estimated that 4.2 to 4.6 million people participated in the primary vote, far in excess of the 2.9 million who selected Francois Hollande to face Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, and possibly even more than the first round of the right-center primaries last week. Nearly 4.3 million people voted on November 20, winnowing down the field of seven to just two, but with no candidate securing a simple majority of the votes, this Sunday’s run-off was necessary.

Once called Mr. Nobody by the press, and dismissively referred to as “an employee” by Sarkozy, during his five-year term as prime minister during his presidency between 2007 and 2012, Fillon has got his own back on his former boss, by coming from the outside to defeat him, and the frontrunner Juppe, with a surge that began only weeks ago.

A self-proclaimed Thatcherite, 62-year-old Fillon has promised to slash public spending, raise the retirement age, extend the working week, and offer tax breaks to lift France, which he has labeled “bankrupt”, out of its economic stagnation, accompanied by high unemployment. He has also promised to normalize relations with Russia, calling President Francois Hollande’s stand-off with Kremlin over Ukraine and Syria “absurd.”

While Fillon got the better of his rivals during the televised debates in the weeks before the votes, the margin of his victory can also be explained by their baggage. While energetic, Juppe is nearly a decade older, which could have served as an unfavorable contrast with 48-year-old Le Pen. His inclusive rhetoric of cultural unity, which put him at the front of the race until weeks ago, now appears out of step with the mood of the electorate, with the mayor of Bordeaux earning the nickname Ali Juppe, for his concessions to Muslims.

On the other hand, Sarkozy, who came third in last week’s vote, was regarded as too toxic by a proportion of the electorate, either disappointed by his time in office, or the trail of corruption accusations that has left him battling a series of legal cases over the past several years.