PARIS (AP) — The author of France's 35-hour workweek law and a longtime Socialist Party leader dominated nationwide voting Sunday to determine the left's leading candidate for next year's presidential elections.
Martine Aubry and Francois Hollande are almost certain to head to a runoff vote Oct. 16, based on initial estimates from the Socialist Party in the unusual and unprecedented primary.
The winner would be the main challenger to conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the April-May elections for president of the world's fifth-largest economy. The unpopular Sarkozy is widely expected to seek a second term.
The man considered a shoo-in for the Socialist nomination earlier this year, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was notably absent from the ballot. The former International Monetary Fund chief saw his presidential ambitions shrivel after a New York hotel maid accused him in May of trying to rape her. Prosecutors later dropped the case, but he faces continued legal troubles.
In a surprise breakthrough, the third-place candidate in Sunday's Socialist primary was a hard-leftist who campaigns against globalization, legislator Arnaud Montebourg. He's emerging the kingmaker in next week's runoff, and may push the Socialists' presidential platform farther toward the left.
The high number of voters Sunday is a boost for the Socialists, who haven't won a presidential election since 1988 and have suffered for years from divisions and confusion about how to steer a leftist course through the increasingly interconnected global economy.
The party says on its website that Hollande had 39 percent of the vote and Aubry 31 percent, based on about 1,674,000 ballots counted. Those ballots must still be double-checked and validated before the result is declared definitive.
The party estimates that some 2 million voters took part in Sunday's voting.
The bespectacled Hollande was a longtime chief of the party, and polls suggest he could handily beat Sarkozy were the elections held today.
Hollande has decades of experience as a lawmaker and is seen as palatable to a broad swath of French voters angered by the divisive Sarkozy, but has no dramatic proposals for saving the euro, shrinking debts, solving tensions with immigrants or the other woes that ail France.
Aubry, who became the first woman to run the Socialist Party when she succeeded Hollande at the party helm, is seen as steady and dogmatic and unlikely to stray far from the party's strong-government line.
Montebourg's rise came at the expense of Segolene Royal, who won the Socialist nomination in the last presidential campaign but lost the elections to Sarkozy. Royal and Hollande were partners for years and raised four children together before splitting up, and their unusual rivalry drew attention during the Socialists' TV debates
Initial estimates showed Royal with 7 percent, ahead of the last two candidates, Manuel Valls and Jean-Michel Baylet.
In a first for France, the primary voting was open to all registered voters, not just Socialist party members. Voters were required to sign a pledge that they share the values of the left, and to donate euro1 ($1.34) toward the cost of organizing the vote.