Former French prime minister Francois Fillon is expected to win the country’s center-right party’s nomination for the presidential election next year, polls show.
As the second and last round of the primary election kicked off in the European country on Sunday, new surveys conducted two days earlier saw the 62-year-old politician as a sure bet for the French presidential nomination, with a 61-percent of support compared to his main rival Alain Juppe’s 39 percent.
In the first round of the primary election, which had been held on November 20, Fillon took the lead among seven candidates with 44.1 percent of the votes. Juppe garnered 28.5.
The boost in Fillon’s lead is said to be linked to a convincing performance during a final televised debate, in which the frontrunner vowed to halt “the decline of France” and to implement sweeping changes in the first three months of his term in office.
“I’ve got a plan for the reforms I want to make in the first three months of the presidential term and I’m convinced if we don’t get these changes implemented in the first three months, the French people will feel disheartened, they’ll turn away from politics, and then there will be a greater risk of the extremists winning,” he said, in reference to the French far-right, represented by a fiery Marine Le Pen.
During the debate, Fillon mapped out his future economic reforms, saying they are to be “realistic and radical” reform programs set to include slashing half a million public sector jobs and scrapping the 35-hour work week.
The 71-year-old Juppe, who is also a former premier, defended his more moderate policies, insisting that his proposals were “deep and credible” but lacked the “brutality” of Fillon’s plans.
The Sunday ballot will send one of the two veterans into an electoral battle highly projected to be against the far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election in April 2017.
There will be a runoff in May.
Polls for months have predicted that Le Pen would qualify for the second round of the presidential election but would lose it to the mainstream right-winger.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy conceded defeat in the first round of the country’s right-wing presidential primary.
President Francois Hollande is yet to announce if he will seek a second term in the Elysee Palace, though his approval rating shows a rock-bottom four percent in a recent survey.