France's Socialist Party begins selecting presidential candidate


France's governing Socialist Party begins the process of selecting its candidate for the presidency this weekend with the first round of voting in its primary contest.

President Francois Hollande is not seeking a second term after a reign blighted by terror attacks, meaning the governing party will have a new candidate in the elections proper in April and May.

However, polls have consistently shown whoever is the official Socialist Party candidate will have their work cut out to win the presidency.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the centre-right's Francois Fillon, selected in his party's primary contest, are favourites to duel for the keys to the Elysee Palace on May 7 after the first round of voting on April 23 whittles the field down to two.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron, who quit the Socialists to run as a centrist candidate, is polling well and beginning to close on Ms Le Pen and Mr Fillon.

Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon could also draw votes away from the Socialists in the spring.

The Socialists could theoretically choose their candidate this weekend but unless the winner in the field of seven gets 50% plus one vote there will be a second round of voting on January 29 between the two best performers on Sunday.

Manuel Valls, until recently Mr Hollande's prime minister, was favourite but has faced strong competition in a field of seven from the likes of Arnaud Montebourg, Benoit Hamon and Vincent Peillon who all performed well in the primary debates.

Mr Hollande announced last year he would not seek a second term, the first time an incumbent president has made such a decision in the history of the Fifth Republic, the system creating a powerful president introduced in 1958.

Only Georges Pompidou, who died in office in 1974, has previously not run again.

The other candidates in the Socialist race, Francois de Rugy, Jean-Luc Bennahmias and Sylvia Pinel, are seen as long shots.

Whoever emerges from the primaries would currently finish fifth in the presidential election first round behind Ms Le Pen, Mr Fillon, Mr Macron and Mr Melenchon, according to recent polls.

Mr Fillon or Mr Macron would probably beat Ms Le Pen in the second round, polls suggest.