- Title: Juppe says as president he'll unite France, but first can he convince the right?
- Date: 25th November 2016
- Summary: NICE, FRANCE (FILE - OCTOBER 15, 2016) (REUTERS) JUPPE, AND FILLON AT CEREMONY COMMEMORATING NICE ATTACKS
- Embargoed: 10th December 2016 13:05
- Keywords: France election presidential Fillon Juppe primary conservatives
- Location: PARIS, NICE AND TOULOUSE, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, NICE AND TOULOUSE, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00459XZN0N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
The French conservatives' presidential primary was drawing to a close on Friday (November 25) with former front runner Alain Juppe struggling to make up a ground against rival Francois Fillon, and polls showing his unifying pitch was failing to convince the electorate.
For months, Juppe was firm favourite to take the primary and the Elysee Palace but his volunteers were scrambling to gather support for the ex-premier ahead of the final vote on Sunday.
A team of young recruits were leafleting outside Paris's Dauphine university on Wednesday, among them Pierre Henry who told Reuters TV that despite Juppe's age - at 71 he is nine years older than his rival Francois Fillon - his campaign was young at heart.
"I think he's very young in his head. Progressive ideas, new ideas, I find them in Alain Juppe, this is what motivated me," he said.
His central campaign theme has been France's "happy identity", in marked contrast to his now-defeated rival Nicolas Sarkozy who took a harder line on security and national identity.
"France is diverse. We're not all the same, we don't have the same background, we don't have the same skin colour, we don't have the same religion, sometimes we don't have the same sexual orientation, and these differences are respectable, and they add to the richness and the strength of France," he told one of his last campaign meetings in the southern city of Toulouse on Tuesday.
Fillon, for his part, has said that France has chosen not to go down the path of multi-culturalism.
Whilst their economic policies share much, Fillon proposes to go much further in some areas - cutting up to 500,000 public sector jobs over his five-year term which Juppe considers to be unrealistic.
Polls indicate that whoever comes out top in Sunday's vote is likely to meet the far right's Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election, with the left in disarray and the unpopular president Francois Hollande's candidacy still in doubt.
Juppe says that by appealing more to the centre-ground, he is the candidate best-placed to see off the challenge from Le Pen's National Front.
"In opinion polls at the moment there is only one candidate on the right who can stop Marine Le Pen from coming out top in the first round of the presidential election, and that person is Alain Juppe," the deputy director general of the IFOP polling institute, Frederic Dabi told Reuters on Thursday.
But polls suggest that in France's two-round voting system, Le Pen has only a remote chance of winning the runoff in any case.
Juppe's strategy, Dabi said, is to appeal to more voters from the centre and the left.
"Alain Juppe's hope is to bring in lots of voters from the left - why not? - from the centre and from the right who find Francois Fillon's too harsh in his economic programme, and too conservative in his views on social issues," he said.
But even among new voters who intend to participate for the first time on Sunday, Fillon is ahead, Dabi said. The bulk of voters remain those who identify as right wing or affiliated to the candidates' 'Les Republicains' party, he added.
But his tactic appeared to be working in some quarters on Thursday (November 24) with voter Benjamin Savatofski, who voted for socialist Francois Hollande in 2012, saying he voted in the first round and was now preparing to do so again for Juppe.
"This weekend I didn't want to go because my aim (in voting) had been to stop Sarkozy but as Fillon's ideas are a bit Thatcherite, abortion, no more 35-hour week, no more making up for overtime, they're pretty tough ideas, I may go and vote for Juppe but without really feeling it because there's such a gap that I think he's already lost," he said on the streets of Paris.
"I think that if there are lots of people on the left who vote in the primary for the right, we might be able to block Fillon, I think it's pretty vital now," voter from the far left Annie Beveniste said.
If elected, Juppe has promised to serve only one five-year term as president.
He has been on the front line of French politics for decades serving as prime minister, defence minister and foreign minister, a close ally of former president Jacques Chirac and mayor of Bordeaux for the better part of two decades.
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