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France's presidential campaign kicks off with right-wing primaries

media Nicolas Sarkozy, former head of the Les Republicains political party, arrives for a political rally in Franconville, France, as part of his campaign for the French conservative presidential primary on 19 September, 2016. Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France’s main right-wing party Les Républicains launches its primary campaign on Wednesday to choose its candidate for next year’s presidential election.

Frontrunners among the seven candidates are hard-line former president Nicolas Sarkozy and more moderate Alain Juppé.

Sarkozy caused a stir on Monday, saying that when immigrants become naturalised, their ancestors become the Gauls, and they should be obliged to “live like the French”.

One cabinet minister in the ruling Socialist government said the former president sounded like a spokesperson for far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The remarks also suggest Sarkozy’s strategy for the primary, which is open to anyone who pays two euros and signs a charter saying they share the party’s values.

Emmanuel Rivière of polling institute TNS Sofres told RFI’s Mike Woods the candidates will therefore seek voters from across the political spectrum.

 “The more right-leaning voters participate, the more Nicolas Sarkozy has a chance to win," said Rivière. "His main opponent is Alain Juppé, and we see in our polls that people claiming to be leftist but also claiming they will participate in the primary election, will probably support Juppé. So what Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to do is to enlarge the turnout to the right.”

According to Rivière, the question of identity is an important question for France, and not only for right-wing voters. He expressed his belief that many French people feel French society is divided and weakened because of this division.

Rivière also said he anticipates Sarkozy will take an offensive approach:

“One usual strategy of Nicolas Sarkozy is to create debates and some polemics, but by doing that, he takes a risk of course, but he chooses what we are speaking about and not his opponents. So, it helps him to be in the very centre of the discussion, of the debate and of the campaign.”

Sarkozy was due in Calais on Wednesday, where thousands of migrants have been living in squalid makeshift camps in the hopes of somehow crossing the English Channel to Britain.

In no particular order, the seven confirmed candidates are:

Alain Juppe, 71; Nicolas Sarkozy, 61; Francois Fillon, 62; Bruno Le Maire, 47; Jean-Francois Cope, 52; Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 43; and Jean-Frederic Poisson, 53.

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