Hamon’s unexpected performance, after several polls had showed Valls narrowly winning the first round, underscored the depth of disappointment with President François Hollande’s middle-ground leadership among many left-wing voters. By choosing Hamon, who joined the ranks of rebel Socialist MPs after leaving the government in 2014, supporters signaled a strong desire for change leaning toward a more Jeremy Corbyn-style leftism.
While Valls vowed to carry a “realistic” left-wing platform, Hamon campaigned on a far more idealistic set of proposals, including a universal revenue (progressively introducing a €750 monthly payment “for all”) and legalizing cannabis — both of which were criticized by nearly all of his rivals.
The candidates will meet in a runoff vote January 29.
At his campaign headquarters, Hamon delivered a sober statement pledging renewal of the left in France but staying clear of a promise of victory in the primary — or indeed the upcoming presidential election.
An Ipsos poll published Sunday showed all Socialist candidates far behind right-wing rivals, with Valls at 9 percent in the first round of the presidential election in April; the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen at 27 percent; and conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon at 25 percent. The Ipsos poll gave Hamon 8 percent.
“I see the first bricks being laid for the reconstruction of much more than the left,” the 49-year-old said Sunday. “Tonight is, therefore, a first step. I receive your confidence with a sense of responsibility, of seriousness, but also a lot of enthusiasm.”
Valls, who was thrown into the position of the challenger, declared himself “very happy to face Benoît Hamon” in the primary runoff, adding left-wing supporters now faced a clear choice. “The choice between certain defeat and a possible victory; the choice between inapplicable ideas and a responsible left.”
Shortly after 10 p.m. in Paris, the primary’s organizers said Hamon was ahead with 36.1 percent and Valls was second with 31.24 percent. Former Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who got 17.69 percent according to partial results, declared defeat and called on his backers to support Hamon.
But Hamon will be difficult to beat — especially if a majority follow Montebourg’s instructions.
Turnout for the primary, which featured seven mainly Socialist candidates, several of whom belonged at one point to Valls’ cabinet, was low compared to a previous left-wing primary in 2011.
Organizer Christophe Borgel said a final tally was likely to show between 1.5 and 2 million voters. In 2011, the first round of the left-wing primary drew more than 2.5 million voters. By contrast, more than 4 million voted in the first round of the conservative primary in November, which Fillon went on to win.
Interest for the right-wing primary was particularly intense due to the understanding that its winner would become a favorite to win the presidency, according to current polling. The left’s contest, by contrast, suffers from the opposite belief, with many left-wing voters disappointed with Socialist party rule after five years of a deeply unpopular presidency under Hollande who decided not to run for a second term.
The final run-off of the French presidential elections is scheduled for May 7.