French conservatives voted today for their nominee in next year's presidential election, choosing between two former prime ministers with some similar ideas on the economy but divergent views on how to prevent further terror attacks on French soil.
The contenders in the primary runoff Francois Fillon, 62, and 71-year-old Alain Juppe are both high-profile leaders of the center-right Republicans party. Fillon, who wants to focus on fighting Islamic extremism, is judged by many to be the front-runner.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was knocked out of the primary's first round of voting a week ago and threw his weight behind his government's former No. 2 Fillon who kept a low profile after casting his vote in Paris.
Juppe, the perceived underdog, remained confident of victory after casting his second-round ballot in Bordeaux Sunday morning despite finishing behind his adversary by double digits only last week.
"I have no regrets. I ran a great campaign... I've defended my ideas until the end and it's going to work. I'm sure of it," Juppe told reporters. But he also acknowledged he had contemplated defeat.
Sunday's runoff comes after a bruising and highly adversarial end phase to the months-long primary contest.
The winner of the runoff ultimately could end up facing far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is banking on anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-establishment sentiments to sweep her to power in the general election set for April, with a runoff the following month if neither side wins a majority.
The incumbent, Socialist President Francois Hollande is expected to announce in the coming weeks whether he will seek re-election. The position of the French left has been weakened by Hollande's extreme unpopularity.
Fillon has enjoyed a strong boost in popularity in recent weeks. He promotes traditional family values and said he plans to reduce immigration to France "to a minimum" positioning himself firmly to Juppe's right.
Juppe is advocating a more peaceful vision of French society, based on respect for religious freedom and ethnic diversity.
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