Some leading French Socialists threaten to desert hard-left Hamon

PARIS (Reuters) - Two French Socialists said they would not back their party’s hard-left presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, deepening splits in the party and handing a possible boost to independent centrist rival Emmanuel Macron.

Former French education minister Benoit Hamon reacts after partial results in the second round of the French left's presidential primary election in Paris. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Other senior party members, including Finance Minister Michel Sapin, took to the airwaves on Tuesday urging Hamon to pull back to the center ground, signaling they might also desert him if he persisted.

Hamon secured the Socialist ticket after a run-off vote on Sunday on a raft of divisive policies including legalizing cannabis, cancelling debts between EU states and bringing in a “universal income” for all citizens.

Socialist politicians Christophe Caresche and Gilles Savary, from the right wing of the Socialist party, wrote an article in Tuesday’s Le Monde newspaper saying they could not support him.

“How could we back a program that is the total opposite of the (current presidential) mandate that we support and which produced progress in our view,” they said.

Sapin and Health Minister Marisol Touraine, staunch allies of unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande, said Hamon should concentrate on winning over the rest of the party, and not expect fellow-Socialists to fall into line behind him.

Sapin said Hamon had two or three weeks to clarify the situation, without going into further details.

The Socialists, weakened and divided after Hollande’s presidency, are given next to no chance of getting beyond the first round of the election in April. But a defection of centrist Socialists could be a significant boost for Macron.

A poll published on Jan 29 for French newspaper Le Figaro showed far-right leader Marine Le Pen would come first in the election’s first round in April with 25 percent of the votes, while conservative candidate Francois Fillon would garner 21-22 percent and Macron 20-21 percent.

In the runoff on May 7, both Fillon and Macron were seen winning if either was pitted against Le Pen, while Macron would beat Fillon in the knockout, the poll added.

Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Brian Love