France’s First Female President Could Be Right-Wing Pecresse

France’s Republicans Pick Pecresse as Presidential Candidate

France’s Republicans picked Valerie Pecresse, head of the economically mighty Paris region, to fight Emmanuel Macron in next year’s election, marking the first time a woman was chosen to represent the center-right party in a presidential contest.

Pecresse won the final round of voting on Saturday, with 61% of ballots cast by party members in a closed election. Eric Ciotti, a lawmaker from southern France often compared to far-right rival Eric Zemmour, took 39%.

“For the first time in its history, the party of General de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, our political family will have a female candidate,” Pecresse said in a televised address after the result was announced. “We are going to restore French pride and protect the French people.” 

Polls show Macron defeating nationalist leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off of April’s ballot. But Pecresse, who is placing fourth behind Zemmour, has a chance of winning France’s top job and returning the Republicans to power for the first time in a decade.

The mood among French voters has shifted to the right since the last election. And over the next four months, she could convince Republicans who voted for Macron to return to the party while luring the more moderate ones from Zemmour and Le Pen. Macron campaigned as an independent centrist in 2017.

An adviser in Macron’s government described Pecresse as a serious contender, and said she could be seen as representing the same kind of change he did.

Pecresse and Ciotti started out as underdogs but beat clear favorites Xavier Bertrand and Michel Barnier in the first round of the primary on Thursday. Both men said they’d back her and called on their supporters to do the same.

“It shows that our ideas, a strong, clear, uncompromising right, are at the heart of the French people’s expectations,” Ciotti said in a speech after the results were announced on Saturday, adding that he would now campaign for Pecresse.

The 54-year-old says she would halve the number of residency permits for migrants coming from outside the European Union and toughen judicial sentences in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. She would also raise the age of retirement to 65 and cut 200,000 public sector jobs.

Pecresse is a career politician who served as education and budget ministers under Sarkozy. Though France reached record public debt and a ballooning deficit during her mandate, her links to the last Republican president helped her build a national brand. 

In June, Pecresse was re-elected to run France’s wealthiest and most populous region of Ile-de-France by a wide margin. 

She is known for her humor and for seeming to blurt out her thoughts. Asked about that recently, she replied, “there’s a misunderstanding with me, I’m blond.”

Pecresse left the Republicans for several years because she said it was flirting with the far-right, before returning to try and win the party’s nomination. 

The candidate graduated from the prestigious postgraduate Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which Macron and several of his predecessors also attended, and lives in the affluent city of Versailles. Her challenge will be ditching the perception that she’s privileged and out of touch with ordinary voters in the provinces.

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