Former prime minister Francois Fillon is favorite to become the French center-right's presidential candidate after a voting upset that puts him in pole position for a showdown with far right leader Marine Le Pen in next year's election.
Fillon, who has said he will cut public sector jobs and rein in government spending, won 44 percent of votes in Sunday's first-round of voting for the center-right's nomination. He faces a second-round vote against another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, who trailed him by 15 percentage points.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy came third and was eliminated.
The outcome adds to uncertainty about the result of next year's presidential election, likely to be decided in a runoff in May. It could increase a still remote risk that the anti-immigration, eurosceptic National Front leader Le Pen can win it, although there is no clear evidence Fillon would fare worse against her than Juppe.