Europe

French voters choosing left-wing presidential nominee

  • Former French Prime Minister and candidate for the French left's presidential primaries ahead of the 2017 presidential election, Manuel Valls, arrives to cast his vote during the first round of the Socialist party primary election in Evry, south of Paris, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Seven candidates are running in the first round of France's left-wing presidential primary, whose winner will face a tough challenge from the right and nationalist far right in the April-May general election. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    Former French Prime Minister and candidate for the French left's presidential primaries ahead of the 2017 presidential election, Manuel Valls, arrives to cast his vote during the first round of the Socialist party primary election in Evry, south of Paris, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Seven candidates are running in the first round of France's left-wing presidential primary, whose winner will face a tough challenge from the right and nationalist far right in the April-May general election. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)  (The Associated Press)

  • Ballot papers are displayed during the first round of the French left's presidential primaries, ahead of the 2017 presidential election, in Lille, Sunday, Jan 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

    Ballot papers are displayed during the first round of the French left's presidential primaries, ahead of the 2017 presidential election, in Lille, Sunday, Jan 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)  (The Associated Press)

  • Former Economy minister Arnaud Montebourg looks on before voting during the first round of the French left's presidential primary election, in Montret, eastern France, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Seven candidates are running in the first round of France's left-wing presidential primary, whose winner will face a tough challenge from the right and nationalist far right in the April-May general election. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

    Former Economy minister Arnaud Montebourg looks on before voting during the first round of the French left's presidential primary election, in Montret, eastern France, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Seven candidates are running in the first round of France's left-wing presidential primary, whose winner will face a tough challenge from the right and nationalist far right in the April-May general election. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)  (The Associated Press)

French left-wing voters are casting ballots in a nationwide presidential primary aimed at producing a candidate strong enough to confront formidable conservative and nationalist rivals in the April-May general election.

Seven candidates from the Socialist Party and its allies are running in Sunday's first round of voting. The top two vote-getters advance to a runoff Jan. 29.

Center-leaning former Prime Minister Manuel Valls is a leading contender, but faces formidable challenges from harder-core leftists Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, both former government ministers.

The primary's winner will have tough competition from candidates on the far left, center, right and far right in a campaign marked by anti-immigrant populism and economic stagnation.

President Francois Hollande declined to seek re-election, fearing his record-low popularity would hurt the Socialists' chances of keeping the presidency.