France’s first Republican presidential primary has ended in a surprising runoff between two former prime ministers and halted a political comeback by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sarkozy came in third in the field of seven vying for the nomination for France’s center-right party.
The shock winner was Francois Fillon, who staged a remarkable late surge to win the vote.
He’ll contest Alain Juppe in a second-round vote for the party’s nomination on November 27.
It’s assumed the winner will be the one to contest the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, for the presidency.
Le Pen’s anti-Europe and anti-immigration stance has been gaining popularity among French voters, and in an interview with CNN last week, she said she’d been emboldened by Donald Trump’s recent victory in the United States.
It “makes the French realize that what the people want, they can get, if they mobilize themselves,” she said.
With more than three-quarters of polling places reporting, Fillon had around 44% of the vote followed by Juppe with about 28%.
Sarkozy brought in 20% and said in a concession tweet, “I wish the best for my country and for the one who will have to lead the France that I love — NS”
In a concession speech, Sarkozy said he will support the 62-year-old Fillon in the runoff. Fillon is seen as a centrist and served as prime minister between 2007 and 2012 during Sarkozy’s presidency.
Fillon, a Catholic conservative, was considered an unlikely bet for the presidency until a few weeks ago, but won over voters with a polished performance in televised debates.
He apparently also struck the right tone on the fight against Islamist terrorism and ISIS after publishing a new book called “Beating Islamic Totalitarianism.”
After his win, Fillon tweeted a message to the French electorate.
“I thank the French people who supported me and I send a message of respect and coming together to the other voters.”