Hamon Wins French Socialist Primaries

The Socialist Party of France (PS) announced that Benoît Hamon will be their party’s candidate for the next presidential election following his victory in the second round of the primaries, held on January 29. Hamon, who emerged in first place during the first round of voting, defeated former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, 58 percent to 42 percent according to initial, partial results. He will now represent PS in the presidential election in April and May 2017.

Hamon's victory was widely unexpected as he only rose to popularity a few weeks ago. As current President Francois Hollande announced he would not seek reelection, his prime minister, Manuel Valls, declared his candidacy and was initially deemed the favorite. Of the seven candidates participating in this open primary, most observers considered Hamon the farthest left and an unlikely winner overall. However, in the last stages of the campaign, he built momentum through good performances on political TV shows and debates, mimicking the unexpected victory of François Fillon in the conservative primaries in November 2016.

Though he is the youngest of the candidates running for the socialist primaries at 49, Hamon has been in politics for three decades, joining PS at 19 while involved in student unionism and antiracist activism. A longtime member of the left wing of the party, Hamon was named minister for social economy and later education minister following Hollande's election in 2012.

In 2014, however, Hamon was sacked from the government along with Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg after the two criticized the supply-side and pro-market economic policy of Hollande and Valls and argued for slowing deficit-reduction to develop a growth-driving stimulus package. Hamon then became a vocal opponent of Hollande's policies, especially his attempt to revoke citizenship for terrorists and his labor reform. Hamon was first to declare his candidacy in August 2016 but polled third for months, behind Montebourg, Hollande, and Valls.

In an unusually short campaign, Hamon successfully made his proposed universal income policy the most talked-about subject of the debates. Under Hamon's proposal, an income of €750 ($810) would be given, first to welfare recipients and those between 18 and 25-years-old, and eventually to all French citizens if the program proves successful and popular. This proposal to simplify welfare, ensure minimum living conditions, and reduce incentives to forgo work has been a divisive topic of discussion for politicians and economists in the weeks before the vote.

Other key elements of his platform include an ecological transition program with increased efforts towards reduction of nuclear energy dependency and a ban on diesel car motors by 2025. Hamon has also vowed to create a “Sixth Republic" that would reduce presidential powers and increase parliamentary influence and citizen involvement. He also declared his support to legalize cannabis and assisted euthanasia and to protect whistleblowers.

Despite his large victory, Hamon will now have to deal with a disunified party. The primary election was a polarizing event between what Valls described as "two irreconcilable" wings of the left. A large part of the socialist electorate opposed Valls because of a perceived authoritarian style and his pro-business agenda. Valls, on the other hand, criticized Hamon’s economic project as utopian and a cover for increased taxes. He was also critical of Hamon’s lack of authority and strength in the fight against terrorism and radical Islamists.

In his celebration speech, Hamon called for party unity and announced that he would create a "governing majority" with ecologist Yannick Jadot and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Valls, however, had already announced he "could not" defend Hamon's program and would stand back from the election if defeated. Many observers now expect Valls supporters and pro-government socialists to join Emmanuel Macron, Hollande’s former economy minister, who is running on an independent, centrist ticket.

Indeed, Hamon appears a very unlikely winner for the next presidential election; latest opinion polls put him only in fourth position with 15 percent of the vote, behind far-right Marine Le Pen, conservative François Fillon and center-left Emmanuel Macron.