François Fillon won the French centre-right presidential nomination on Sunday, in a landslide vote that brings him closer to the presidency next year.
Partial results from 9,795 of 10,228 polling stations show Mr Fillon attracted 66.6 per cent of the vote in the primary run-off, against Alain Juppé, who secured 33.4 per cent of the vote.
The former prime minister’s victory reveals a clear shift to the right among Republican party sympathisers, who seek a return to the right-wing tenets of law and order, and a break from past economic policies with a resolutely free market economic programme.
About 4.5m voters turned out for the final round of the centre-right primary, the first being organised in France, to pick their candidate for presidential elections next year.
“For three years, I have campaigned on my values,” Mr Fillon said on Sunday evening. “France doesn’t accept its fall, France wants freedom and action. The left is leading us to failure. The extreme right leads us to bankruptcy.”
Mr Juppé congratulated the nominee for “his large victory”.
“As for me, I am going to focus fully on my mission as mayor of Bordeaux, which gives me so much joy,” he said.
Past surveys have suggested that given the divisions on the left, the centre-right nominee would be likely to qualify for the presidential run-off in May, against Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader. No candidate on the left, including François Hollande, the deeply unpopular Socialist president, is in a position to gather enough support to make it to the second round, according to pollsters.
Mr Fillon would then be able to win the presidency with the support of mainstream voters from the left and right.
He had unexpectedly surged to pole position in the first round of the primary last Sunday, pushing Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, out of the race.
The final result is a crushing defeat for Mr Juppé, who was prime minister under Jacques Chirac. The 71-year-old politician, who had long been predicted to win the nomination, failed to make up for lost ground by criticising his opponents’ free market platform and traditional views on social issues.
On Thursday, during the campaign’s last televised debate, a combative Mr Juppé lashed out at public spending cuts proposed by Mr Fillon. He also sought to provoke his competitor over his close ties with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and his willingness to negotiate with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
“I must admit that it’s the first time that a Russian president interferes in a French election by giving the name of his candidate,” Mr Juppé said, referring to Mr Putin’s praise for Mr Fillon on Wednesday.
Mr Fillon, meanwhile, focused on his radical supply-side reforms, pointing out that Mr Juppé’s cure for France’s woes was too gentle to produce the “shock” he is instead advocating. The 62-year-old politician laid out more ambitious measures to shrink the welfare state, scrap the 35-hour working week and revisit the French postwar social model that “is taking on water from everywhere”.
“Alain Juppé does not really want to change things. He’s keeping with the system, he wants to improve it,” Mr Fillon said. “My project is more radical.”
All registered voters were allowed to take part in the run-off provided they paid €2 and signed a charter stating that they agreed with the “Republican values of the centre and the right”.