Hamon more convincing in TV debate before French Socialist primary: poll

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PARIS (Reuters) - Hardline French Socialist Benoit Hamon was seen as more convincing in a television debate on Wednesday with ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls ahead of a runoff vote at the weekend to pick the party’s presidential candidate, an Elabe poll showed.

The survey, conducted for BFM TV shortly after the debate was over, found 60 percent of those polled found Hamon more convincing compared with 37 percent for Valls.

Hamon, a former education minister who was kicked out of Valls’ government in 2014 for differences on economic policy, won the first round of the party primary vote on Sunday with Valls coming in second.

Regardless of who wins Sunday’s runoff, polls suggest neither stands much chance of getting past the first round of France’s April-May presidential election after five years of unpopular rule by Francois Hollande.

However, the winner of the Socialist primary will have an impact on other candidates and notably popular independent Emmanuel Macron, who could pick up support from Valls voters if Hamon wins.

In the tense two-hour debate, Hamon defended his plans for a basic monthly welfare payment for all and said environmental decline was a bigger danger than budget deficits because “we can negotiate with bankers, but not with nature.”

Valls, a Spanish-born pro-business reformer, sought to paint Hamon’s plans as a reckless use of public funds that could not be financed without adding to France’s already hefty tax burden and considerable debt.

“There is a difference between dreams and illusions, and a (political) program’s credibility. That’s what interests me and that’s what the French are going to make their decisions over,” Valls said.

Hamon fought back by questioning Valls’ left-wing credentials in government with tax breaks on share options and a contested labor reform law to make firing easier for employers.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Andrew Hay