French conservative party to pick presidential candidate at closed conference

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Members of the French conservative political party - Les Républicains, (LR) - will not hold a primary to designate their 2022 presidential candidate, but will choose their candidate during a closed conference on 4 th of December.

Fifty-eight percent of LR members are in favour of holding a congress at which only up-to-date fee paying members will have a say in who represents them in the 2022 presidential race.

The result in the electronic vote held on Friday and Saturday comes as good news for Xavier Bertrand, who is currently ahead in opinion polls, and who is against the idea of holding an open primary.

Those who were in favour of a primary – namely Valérie Pécresse and Michel Barnier - may well be frustrated by this latest turn of events, but have agreed to toe the line.

To be in the running, each candidate must garner 250 signatures. In addition, as part of the selection process, anyone whose platform does not conform to traditional party values can be excluded.

This newly added clause is designed to prevent the participation of candidates such as the far-right pretender, Eric Zemmour, who “is not a part of our political family,” Christian Jacob, president of the LR party told the press.

Party divisions

Jacob said that the principal reason to hold such a vote is to “avoid division". He added that “a closed debate would allow all members to unite behind one candidate.”

“Party members no longer want to have an open vote, because they have bad memories of their previous experience. They want to take back their power to choose,” Rémy Lefebvre, political science teacher in Lille, explained to France Info.

In 2016, the LR primary proved a popular option with more than four million votes cast in both rounds, handing a landslide victory to François Fillon with 66 percent, in a battle with Alain Juppé. However, it spelled the beginning of an irreparable division in the party.

Several members such as Edouard Philippe, Bruno Le Maire, Gérald Darmanin decided to split and join Emmanuel Macron.

Pascal Perrineau, professor at Sciences Po says Xavier Bertrand, who is currently the president of the Hauts-de-France regional council, will have an advantage over his rivals.

Even if he officially left the LR party in 2017, Bertrand has always consistently maintained his opposition to a primary, an act that allows him “to send a clear message to the Republicans”.

Bertrand, Pécresse and Barnier will be joined by Eric Ciotti and Philippe Juvin in the potential line-up. The only thing that will set them apart from one another will be their performance in the opinion polls, says Lefebvre.

Chaotic history

Although Bertrand remains ahead of the others with between 15 and 17 percent of voter intentions, analysts believe that this is not enough to take him through to a second round in the future presidential race, which is beginning to resemble that of 2017; a duel between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

In a poll published on Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche, 63 percent of LR supporters said they thought Bertrand had a chance to beat Macron in the 2022 line-up, compared to 11 percent for Barnier, and 8 percent for Pécresse.

“Bertrand is perceived to be the one who can beat his adversaries,” says Frédéric Dabi, the director general of the Ifop polling group which carried out the JDD survey.

“In light of the fact that supporters on the right lost the last two elections, and witnessed a chaotic history of late, this could be his trump card.”

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