Paris: France’s Socialists voted on Sunday in the first round of a presidential primary with candidates including former prime minister Manuel Valls seeking traction in an election expected to see the country tilt to the right.

The primary is being viewed as a crucial test of the party’s ability to survive and even re-invent itself, with Socialist President Francois Hollande deeply unpopular after five years in office.

After Hollande ruled himself out of the race, Valls quit his cabinet and was the favourite to win the nomination when the seven candidates began campaigning.

But his bid has been viewed by some observers as lacklustre and two contenders from the party’s left flank – protectionist maverick Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon – will push him hard to reach next Sunday’s runoff.

The odds will be stacked against the victor, with many opinion polls showing the Socialist candidate will be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election on April 23.

The election appears to be shaping up as a three-way battle between conservative ex-premier Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old ex-economy minister who is outpacing his former Socialist government colleagues..–AFP

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