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Moderate leftist enters French Socialist primaries

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French education minister Vincent Peillon on Sunday joined a crowded field of candidates in the ruling Socialist party’s primaries to select a candidate to run in next year’s presidential election.

French Education Minister Vincent Peillon speaks during a news conference about the PISA 2012 study results at the Ministry in Paris December 3, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Peillon, a member of the European Parliament who has stayed away from French politics since resigning as education minister, said he wants to bring unity to the divided socialist party.

“The primaries are a machine to produce unity ... I want to be the candidate who brings everyone together,” Peillon said on France 2 television.

With President Francois Hollande having said this month that he would not seek re-election, his former Prime Minister Manuel Valls is seen as the leading contender to win his party’s nomination.[nL5N1E350S]

Valls, who announced his own bid just days after Hollande stood down, is challenged by former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg and former education minister Benoit Hamont, who both resigned from Hollande’s government in protest over what they said was a too liberal economic policy.

The Socialist primaries will be held on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, ahead of presidential elections due in April-May.

Polls indicate that there is little chance of any Socialist candidate preventing a run-off next May between conservative Francois Fillon and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Unlike 2012, when Hollande had managed to rally green and far-left parties behind him, the French left is highly divided after Hollande alienated his allies and many in his own party with his pro-business policy shift in mid-term.

Hollande’s former economy minister Emmanuel Macron is not taking part in the Socialist primaries and is making an independent bid.

Far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon and Green party leader Yannick Jadot are also running, drawing disgruntled voters away from the Socialist base.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by David Goodman