PARIS • The battle to decide the Socialist candidate for the French presidential election will be whittled down to that between two in a primary vote next Sunday in which former premier Manuel Valls faces an outside risk of failing to make it to the party run-off.
Candidates who are to the left of Mr Valls, such as former education minister Benoit Hamon and former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, are nipping at his heels in the polls as the pro-business Socialist has struggled to defend his government's record.
Seven candidates from the Socialists and their allies are taking part in the first round of the primary, with polls closing at 1800 GMT(4am Singapore time today). A run-off will then be held on Sunday to pick a candidate for the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.
Regardless of who wins this primary, polls indicate that the Socialist candidate has next to no chance of making it into the run-off in the presidential election. A dominant force in French politics for decades, the Socialist party has seen support evaporate during the presidency of Mr Francois Hollande.
The Socialists' choice of presidential candidate will be key for the chances of popular independent Emmanuel Macron, who is attracting middle ground voters who Mr Valls also appeals to.
Polls indicate conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon is most likely to emerge as the winner of the presidential election in a run-off against far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
Mr Fillon's programme includes cutting business taxes, relaxing labour laws and scrapping the 35-hour working week to boost growth, while also cutting half a million public sector jobs as part of a drive to shrink the state sector.
But Mr Macron has been gaining ground and could make it to a presidential run-off against Mr Fillon if a left-winger like Mr Montebourg or Mr Hamon wins the Socialist nomination.
Mr Hamon and Mr Montebourg were kicked out of the Socialist government led by Mr Valls in 2014 for criticising its economic policies, which they considered too favourable to business.