France's Republicans pick a woman as presidential candidate

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Valerie Pecresse waits at the Conservative party Les Republicains headquarters after being elected as the party's presidential candidate, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 in Paris. The head the Paris region, Valerie Pcresse, was facing a hardline lawmaker from Nice, Eric Ciotti in the final round of The Republicans' primary. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

PARIS – Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region and a former conservative minister, has been chosen to run in France's presidential race next year as The Republicans party candidate, a decision that could significantly shape April’s election.

She received 61% of the votes in the party's primary while contender Eric Ciotti, a hardline lawmaker from Nice, got 39%. About 140,000 registered members of The Republicans were eligible to participate.

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If elected by French voters, Pécresse vowed to “break” with the centrist policies of incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to seek a second term but has yet to formally declare his candidacy. She also warned voters against backing far-right candidates, arguing that only the conservatives can unite the French people and ease tensions in the country.

Immigration and security emerged as top issues in the party primary largely because of another presidential candidate jumped into the race this week, far-right former TV pundit Eric Zemmour. Zemmour, an author and former journalist with multiple hate-speech convictions. He formally declared his candidacy in a video relaying anti-migrant, anti-Islam imagery.

An experienced politician, Pécresse, 54, has been the minister for higher education, for the budget and was a government spokesperson under former President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

"For the first time in history ... our political family will get a female candidate at the presidential election,” Pécresse said, praising the “boldness” of party members who voted for her. “I will do my very best, with my force, my energy, my determination to make our views win.”

“The right is back!” she said. “It is united and rejoins the (presidential) battle with an implacable will.”

Pécresse said her first action as president would be to end France's 35-hour workweek so employees work and earn more. She also has backed a tough stance on immigration, saying that people who entered the country illegally should be deported.

A supporter of the European Union, Pécresse left The Republicans in 2019 amid leadership divisions after the party had a poor showing in EU elections. She rejoined the party this year.

The Republicans, which still heads several regional assemblies and holds a majority in the French Senate, is the last of France’s traditional parties to choose its presidential contender.

On the far-right, Zemmour's candidacy came this week in addition to the other well-known far-right candidate, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. In 2017, Macron defeated Le Pen in a presidential runoff.

On the left, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is the presidential candidate for the Socialist party and the Greens chose European lawmaker Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace activist. The far-left leader of the Rebel France party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is seeking the presidency for the third time.

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