Battle of Putin's Friends: Putin admirer Fillon wins centre-right presidential primary

10:06 Nov. 28, 2016

Putin admirer Fillon wins centre-right presidential primary

Francois Fillon acknowledges applauses before delivering a speech after the official announcement of results in the conservative party's national primary election in Paris, France, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 (AP photo)

After defeating Juppe, Fillon is now expected to face off against Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, in next April's election

François Fillon, France's former prime minister, has won the Republican presidential primary race to become the French right's presidential candidate next spring, The Guardian reports.

Fillon, 62, gained support in the final days of the primary race after writing a book on the dangers of "Islamic totalitarianism" in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France and defending a tough line on French national identity. He beat the more moderate centrist, Alain Juppé, the 71-year-old mayor of Bordeaux.

With 95% of ballots counted, Fillon had garnered nearly 67% of the votes while Juppé trailed with 33.2%.

France's two-round presidential elections in April and May are being watched as the next possible shakeup of the political system, after Donald Trump won the US presidency this month.

Polls in France have consistently shown that the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, will make it to the final round runoff but that it would be difficult for her to win. Fillon is now the favourite to face her and win the presidency next year.

Read more Battle of Putin's Friends: How new France may look like

Fillon, a career politician for 35 years, is a fan of Margaret Thatcher. But his economic programme – though radical in terms of breaking with the statist traditions of the French right – falls far short of Thatcher's.

He does not intend to privatise state companies and France's traditionally high public spending will remain significant. Fillon served as prime minister from 2007-2012 under the unpopular president Nicolas Sarkozy, playing a key role in an administration that promised economic reform but failed to deliver.

Yet he has successfully convinced the rightwing electorate that he represents radical change.

Fillon, who is on first-name terms with Vladimir Putin after they served as prime ministers during the same period, has advocated a stridently pro-Putin policy towards Russia. He said Russia was no threat, should be a partner in Syria and that European sanctions against Russia should be lifted. He said the fight against Islamic State meant France should not rule out cooperating with Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

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