Former rebel minister Benoit Hamon, ejected from the government of Francois Hollande, is leading establishment Socialist Manuel Valls into the final round of primaries to nominate who from the embattled French left will run for president.

Valls, a former prime minster under Hollande, will face-off against Hamon in a television debate this week. While the outcome of the primaries in unpredictable, Reuters reported Hamon, a junior minister under Hollande, had made it through comfortably ahead of Valls in the penultimate round of voting.

Hamon came to prominence after criticising the president's economic policy, a stance which cost him his job. His image as an outsider as well as a parting gift from third-place candidate Arnaud Montebourg, who attacked Valls' pro-business policies and urged voters to back Hamon appear to have given the 49 year old an extra edge.

After fewer than four years in power whichever candidate is chosen to run in the April elections will be a rank outsider. The Socialist party has become deeply unpopular in France over its failure to curb unemployment and has alienated its base with its economic policies.

Current polls in France appear to show conservative Francois Fillon has the most likely path to the Elysee Palace if he faces National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of elections.

Fillon, a former UMP Prime Minister, will also have to see off popular independent Emmanuel Macron. The former economy minister has appealed to both left and right and is attracting large crowds to rallies with a centrist agenda. The 39-year-old ex-banker could yet upset the vote or swing the balance from Fillon.

Benoit Hamon
Benoit Hamon Reuters