PARIS, Jan 27 — Divided, squabbling and behind in the polls, France’s multiple left-wing presidential candidates are set to be judged in a “people’s primary” contest starting today designed to reduce the crowded field.

A total of 467,000 people have signed up to take part in the online vote which will see five professional politicians and two civil society candidates ranked on a scale from “very good” to “inadequate”.

The winner is set to be announced on Sunday, but the whole exercise looks doomed to fail given that hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, Greens candidate Yannick Jadot and Socialist contender Anne Hidalgo plan to ignore the result.

“There are better things to do 70 days from the first round of voting than an obscure primary,” Melenchon told supporters during a political meeting in Bordeaux this week.

The vote will give a snapshot of opinion on the left, however, and may boost the chances of former Socialist justice minister Christine Taubira who is seen as the most likely candidate to be endorsed.

Melenchon, a former Trotskyist who heads the France Unbowed party, is currently polling the strongest in the flagging left-wing field at around 10 per cent ahead of the first round of voting on April 10.

Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is on around three per cent and Jadot on five, meaning all three would be eliminated and fail to make the second-round run-off vote. 

President Emmanuel Macron is currently seen as the favourite to win the April 24 election, according to surveys, but analysts warn that the vote remains highly unpredictable.

France’s Socialist party, which was in power under president Francois Hollande just five years ago, has seen its support disintegrate under pressure from Macron’s centrist political movement and shifts in public opinion.

Jobs, security and immigration are seen as top of voters’ concerns.

Hollande, who left office with catastrophic approval ratings, briefly sparked rumours he might be eyeing a comeback last weekend when he wondered aloud if “another candidate would serve a purpose?” during a discussion with schoolchildren.

“A former president can very well do politics again, and it has happened, be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said.

His office moved quickly afterwards to clarify that he would not make a bid this year. — AFP