“The right is back”: the Gaullists choose the candidate Valérie Pécresse to face Macron | France

France’s right-wing opposition party has chosen for the first time in its history a candidate for the presidential election next year.

Valérie Pécresse emerged victorious after two rounds of voting by members of the Republicans who saw against all expectations favorites including “Mr. Brexit” Michel Barnier eliminated in the first vote last week.

Pécresse now faces an uphill struggle to win the presidential campaign, with the election just over four months away on April 10. Among his rivals will be the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party candidate who is at the back of the pack in the polls and with whom Pécresse has regularly come up against the decisions of the town hall.

Supporters chanted “Valérie, Valérie” as the results of the poll of 150,000 party members were announced on Saturday afternoon, showing that she had beaten her far-right rival Eric Ciotti by 61% to 39%. Neither had been favorites to pass the first round.

Pécresse, 54, is currently president of the Ile-de-France regional council, of which Paris is a part. She was Minister of the Budget and Minister of Higher Education during the 2007-2012 presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

“For the first time in its history, our party will have a presidential candidate,” she said. “Between the outgoing president and me, there is a difference in our natures. Emmanuel Macron has an obsession, it is to please. Me, I have only one passion, and that is to do.

She added: “Nothing is doomed to failure. We are not doomed to disorder or decline. Our country is full of talent, full of energy.

“The Republican right is back … we will restore our country to its unity, its dignity and its pride.”

During the party’s primary campaign, the main Republican candidates veered from the party’s traditional center-right territory to the far right. Ciotti said he would hold a referendum to stop mass immigration and create a “French Guantanamo Bay” to fight terrorism.

Pécresse, who described herself as “two-thirds of Angela Merkel and one-third of Margaret Thatcher,” had argued that she was the candidate with the experience and notoriety to take on Macron. As education minister, she has faced long-standing street protests and college sit-ins to push for higher education reforms. Former budget minister, she was until now pro-European and moderate; she promises to focus on the economy and on consensus building if she makes it to the Élysée Palace, and has pledged to raise wages and end the maximum 35-hour workweek.

However, in an election campaign that has so far revolved around the three I’s – immigration, integration, Islam – Pécresse has also hardened his line, promising laws to increase “internal security and combat Islamic extremism.”

It remains to be seen whether she will move more to the right, but in her victory speech on Saturday, Pécresse appealed to voters “tempted by Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour” – the two far-right contenders who have dominated the campaign until now .

Pécresse could come under pressure to take a tougher line in a campaign that has so far been dominated by far-right candidates. Photography: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP

“You don’t have to be an extremist to be combative, you don’t have to be insulting to be convincing,” she said. “You know the fear mongers have never been able to act, and in our history no one who has divided us has saved us.”

Pécresse, who was born in the affluent Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, graduated from the National School of Administration (ENA), now dissolved, the large school and greenhouse for the country’s political elite, finishing an impressive second in its class. Even before that she had been a brilliant student, overtaking her Baccalaureate at age 16, two years earlier, and learning Russian at age 15 while spending time in communist youth camps in what used to be the Soviet Union.

“I took propaganda classes and sang the International in Russian,” she recalls later. “From these trips, I have remained with an attachment to freedom of thought, the idea that nonconformity is more on the right than on the left. And the language.

The French presidential election of 2022 is a two-round ballot, the first taking place on April 10 and the second two weeks later. The final list of candidates will not be known until March, when all candidates must submit a list of 500 supporting signatures from the country’s mayors or specific elected officials. So far, around 20 people have officially announced their candidacy, including eight from the left.

Polls taken before Pécresse was chosen as the Republicans’ candidate suggest Macron should still be re-elected next year, but the most likely scenario remains a second-round duel between the president and Le Pen, a repeat of 2017.

Before Pécresse’s victory, Xavier Bertrand – a former minister and now president of the northern Hauts-de-France region, which includes Calais – had been credited with the right’s best chance of overthrowing Macron, but even then most polls had placed him in fourth place after the first round, behind Le Pen and Zemmour.

The left, meanwhile, is divided and struggling. From BFM TV Elyseemeter, amalgamation of the main opinion polls, Hidalgo is lagging behind the candidate of the Ecology-Greens party Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far left.

Zemmour will host its first electoral rally on Sunday evening, with 19,000 people expected. On Friday, he unveiled his slogan: “Impossible is not French” (Impossible is not a French word). About 50 unions, political organizations and anti-fascist associations have called for a demonstration in Paris to coincide with the rally, and the police fear clashes.


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