Former President Nicolas Sarkozy and his populist, hard-line stand on Muslims and immigration went down in defeat Sunday in France’s conservative primary for president. Two ex-prime ministers will instead meet in a runoff next week for the nomination. The race was seen as an early measure of how the terror attacks in France over the past two years and the nationalist wave sweeping Europe and the U.S. have shaped the country’s political landscape. With more than 3.8 million votes counted from about 92 percent of polling stations, Francois Fillon had 44.2 percent, Alain Juppe 28.4 percent and Sarkozy 20.7 percent. The final results are not expected until Monday. The top two vote-getters will compete in the Nov. 27 runoff.
In a speech from his campaign headquarters in Paris, Sarkozy called on his supporters to vote for Fillon — his prime minister from 2007 to 2012 — in the second round. “I did not succeed in convincing a majority of voters. I do respect and understand the will of those who have chosen for the future other political leaders than me,” Sarkozy said. “I have no bitterness, no sadness, and I wish the best for my country.”
The winner is expected to have a strong chance of victory in the April-May presidential election, because traditional rivals on the left have been weakened by Socialist Francois Hollande’s troubled presidency. Pundits believe the defeat of Sarkozy will block the road to the Presidency of extreme-right party of Marine Le Pen.