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In a first for the French republic, the socialists are organising open primaries to select their candidate for next year's presidential election.

What is new this year is that the primary is open to all voters (in 2006, for the 2007 presidential election, there were also primaries but voting was limited to party members, ie roughly 200,000 people) - so a couple million people are expected to vote (all they have to do is pay 1 euro as a contribution to logistical costs and sign a declaration that they share "the values of the left").

Vote is happening in two rounds - the first one today, with 6 candidates, and a second one next Sunday if no candidate gets 50% this time, in a run-off between the top two candidates of the first round.

Voting has been ongoing and will soon close (at 7pm French time, ie 1pm EST) and results should be announced within a few hours. From all indications, these primaries have been an overwhelming success, with between 2 and 3 million people now expected to have voted. In any case, they are dominating the news here, and showing a great exercise in popular democracy - and they will certainly provide very real legitimacy to the selected candidate.

Coming on the heels of the left historic historic victory in French senatiorial elections and the right's ongoing struggle with multiple corruption scandals, it looks in many ways like this is the "real" election to select France's next president.

The socialist candidates largely agreed that they would run on the same (party-prepared) programme, so the campaign has been  more about personality and perceived chances against Sarkozy, who's highly likely to re-run for president despite his record low popularity and the ongoing scandals amongst his close friends and allies, with small variations.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was widely seen as the favorite in this primary, but the event in NYC last spring have prevented him from running and the race is thus quite open between the other candidates, which are:

- François Hollande, long the party's general secretary (and Ségolène Royal's former partner) has emerged as the front runner. He went through a harsh regimen to shed weight (proving his desire for the job in the process) and has flouted a "normal" presidency, ie based on strong morals and ethics (underlining Sarkozy's lack of either); he is popular within the party and on the left. He is in the middle range of the party's ideological spectrum;

- Martine Aubry, the current party's general secretary and Jacques Delors (the powerful socialist head of the European Commission in 1985-1995) ' daughter is the second favorite. Known for the controversial (but actually popular and job-creating, although you'd never know it from reading the English language or the business press)  35-hour week laws, she is seen as very slightly to the left of Hollande but would likely not run very different policies;

- Ségolène Royal, the candidate in 2007, is now running a weak third, after alienating many former supporters with a somewhat inconsistent discourse. She remains popular within militants and may show up with a good score;

- Arnaud Montebourg, a member of parliament, represents the left wing of the party. He calls for constitutional changes to clean up the republic's corrupt practices, and pushes for "demondialisation." One of the unknowns of this vote is how strong of a showing he will make;

- Manuel Valls, the mayor of a difficult Paris suburb, represents the rightist wind of the party, in favor of cutting deficits and putting more police on the streets. He is not expected to make a strogn showing, but the recent TV debates between candidates have raised his profile;

- Jean-Michel Baylet, the last candidate, is actually not a socialist, but the boss of the radical party, a satellite party of the socialists. I'm not sure what he stands for and he is not expected to get many votes.

Results will be known in the next few hours - but I may not be able to update the diary right away as I'm actually about to board a plane for NYC and will be online only after 10pm EST... But I will update this or write a new diary about the results of this exciting election

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