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CORRECTION 1ST LEAD Hardliner favourite as French conservatives choose new leader By Pól Ó Grádaigh, dpa

Europe
10.12.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Paris (dpa) - France‘s main centre-right opposition party was Sunday voting for a new leader, with conservative regional president Laurent Wauquiez heavily tipped to win.

The Les Republicains party has been rudderless since its scandal-hit candidate Francois Fillon crashed out in the first round of the presidential election in April.

With President Emmanuel Macron pushing pro-business reforms and appointing centre-right figures as prime minister and economy minister, the party has split over whether to support him on a case by case basis or stick to outright opposition.

Wauquiez, 42, the president of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, is facing the more centrist Mael de Canan, 37, and Fillon‘s former spokeswoman Florence Portelli, 39.

But the frontrunner has proved a controversial figure, with more centrist politicians fearing he will pull the party too far to the right for it to be able to attract voters.

More centrist Les Republicain politicians as well as the party‘s allies recall his refusal to call for a vote for Macron against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Christophe Lagarde, leader of the centrist UDI, said his grouping‘s long-standing alliance with Les Republicains could not continue with Wauquiez as leader of the latter, accusing him of "an obsession with identity and an anti-European approach."

Wauquiez denies being on the "hard right," saying he stands for the middle class and for a European Union with differing levels of integration that respects state sovereignty.

He argues that Europe must stand up for "its values and its civilization," but says there is no room in the party for anyone seeking an alliance with the National Front.

Le Pen last month accused Wauquiez of hypocrisy, saying he "cannot sincerely say the same things as us, sometimes in harsher language than we do, and at the same time say we should be banished from politics."

Voting by the party‘s 234,908 paid-up members takes place on line until 8:00 pm (1900 GMT), with results expected soon after.

If no candidate wins an outright majority the top two will go through to a run-off vote in a week‘s time.

 

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