French conservatives voting to choose nominee for next year's presidential election
Published 20/11/2016 | 13:06
French conservatives are voting in a nationwide primary to choose their nominee for next year's presidential election after a campaign marked by fears about immigration and Islamic extremism.
Donald Trump's election as president of the United States is on many voters' minds, as France faces its own wave of populism that has emboldened an outsider with an eye on the presidency.
Seven candidates are competing in the first round of the conservatives' primary, and a run-off will be held between the top two a week later.
The three leading candidates are former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 61, and former prime ministers Francois Fillon, 62, and Alain Juppe, 72.
The winner is expected to have strong chances of claiming victory in the April-May presidential election because traditional rivals on the left have been weakened by Socialist Francois Hollande's troubled presidency.
The conservative candidate's main challenger may turn out to be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is hoping anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-establishment sentiment can propel her to the presidency.
Ms Le Pen, official candidate of her once-pariah National Front party, is not taking part in the conservative primary.
The conservatives' campaign has focused on immigration - hotly debated throughout Europe - and security concerns following recent attacks by Islamic extremists.
Mr Sarkozy hopes to pull votes from people attracted to Ms Le Pen. He has called for stricter immigration rules across Europe, and vowed to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves at universities and possibly elsewhere. Hijabs already are banned in French schools, like all other visible signs of religion in strictly secular France.
Mr Fillon has pledged to organise a referendum on a quota system for immigrants.
In contrast, Mr Juppe is advocating a more peaceful vision of French society, based on respect for religious freedom and ethnic diversity.
On the economic front, all candidates want to lower taxes - especially on businesses - and reduce the number of public servants. They also all agree to reverse the 35-hour working week.
Results are expected late on Sunday.