Francois Fillon won France's first-ever conservative presidential primary Sunday after promising drastic free-market reforms and a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism, beating a more moderate rival who had warned of encroaching populism, the AP reports. "President! President!" chanted the former prime minister's supporters as he declared victory over Alain Juppe in a nationwide runoff election. Based on results from about 88% of polling stations, organizers of the center-right Republicans party primary said Fillon led with 67% of the vote compared to 33% for Juppe. Polls suggest the 62-year-old Fillon, prime minister from 2007-2012 under ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, would have a good chance of winning the French presidency in the April-May election. Fillon campaigned on promises of slashing public spending, capping immigration, support for traditional family values, and friendlier ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Fillon enjoyed a surprise surge in popularity in recent weeks over longtime front-runner Juppe, who also previously served as the country's prime minister. In a sober victory speech, Fillon promised to defend "French values" and said France needs "a complete change of software." "There is in our country an immense need for respect and pride. There is also a call for the authority of the state, and exemplary behavior by those who lead it," he said. Juppe, 71, congratulated Fillon on his "wide victory." Fillon's toughest challenge ahead is likely to be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who's running an anti-establishment campaign that particularly targets immigrants, France's large Muslim minority, and the EU. Socialist President Francois Hollande is expected to announce in coming weeks whether he'll seek re-election, but the French left has been deeply weakened by Hollande's unpopularity. (Read more France stories.)