Benoit Hamon hopes to take on Marine Le Pen for the presidency
Benoit Hamon topped the poll in the first round of the French Socialist primary race.
France’s governing party will now choose between the staunch left-winger and ex-prime minister Manuel Valls for its presidential candidate after five other contenders were eliminated in Sunday's first-round of the party's primary contest.
The 49-year-old took around 35 per cent of the vote with Mr Valls taking around 31 per cent, according to partial early results.
In placing me first you have given a clear signal for hope and renewal
Mr Hamon said: "In placing me first you have given a clear signal for hope and renewal."
His success came as a blow to his old adversary Mr Valls, who immediately sought to rally his support for next Sunday's second and final round, suggesting to the party faithful a vote for Mr Hamon would play into the opposition's hands.
He said: "A new campaign begins tonight.
Benoit Hamon topped the poll in the first round of the French Socialist primary race
Manuel Valls sought to rally support for the next round
"A very clear choice is there for us now. A choice between certain defeat or possible victory."
Mr Hamon served as education minister but was kicked out of government on 2014 after rejecting President Francois Hollande and Mr Valls’s pro-business economic policy.
GETTY/ ULRICH BAUMGARTEN
Polls indicate Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen are leading the race
Centrist Emmanuel Macron is gaining ground
Mr Hamon has been branded the dark horse of the race and most left-wing of all the candidates but emerged victorious following an impressive performance in the debates leading up to the poll.
But regardless of which candidate the party chooses, it looks unlikely the Socialists will remain in power.
FACTS about Marine Le Pen
Wed, November 23, 2016
Marine Le Pen is a French politician who is the president of the National Front, a national-conservative political party in France and one of its main political forces.
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A French politician who is the president of the National Front (FN), a national-conservative political party in France and one of its main political forces.
Front National’s Marine Le Pen and Les Republicains Francois Fillon are leading the race, with centrist Emmanuel Macron gaining ground.
Current polling suggests Ms Le Pen and the centre right's Mr Fillon will contest the presidency on May 7 after the first round on April 23 whittles the field down to two.