Valerie Pecresse gained almost 61 percent of the vote among Les Republicains party, becoming the party's first female presidential candidate ever.

Valerie Pecresse was a former minister in the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Valerie Pecresse was a former minister in the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP)

France's conservative party has chosen the moderate chief of the Paris region Valerie Pecresse to challenge President Emmanuel Macron next year, a pick that will likely have a major influence on the shape of the campaign.

Members of The Republicans (LR) in the primary run-off vote chose Pecresse, 54, who will be its first-ever female presidential candidate, over hardliner Eric Ciotti, party leader Christian Jacob announced on Saturday.

"The party of (France's post-war leader) General (Charles) de Gaulle... our political family, will have a female candidate in the presidential election. I am thinking of all the women of France today. I will give everything to triumph," Pecresse said after the result was announced.

Both Pecresse and Ciotti had made the run-off after the first round of voting earlier this week upended expectations.

Pecresse, a former minister in the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, won almost 61 percent of the vote among party members while Ciotti won just over 39 percent, Jacob said.

Ciotti accepted defeat and immediately pledged to support Pecresse while the result is being keenly watched by Macron's office.

While all opinion polls have predicted centrist Macron should win the election, the emergence of a strong candidate on the traditional right who gains momentum during the campaign would be a major factor.    

The campaign has so far been waged on the right, with Macron's government tacking rightwards over the last months with tough rhetoric on immigration and preserving France's secular system.

READ MORE: Conservatives lead first round of French regional elections

'Right-wing is back'

The Republicans, out of power since 2012, makes much of their status as the inheritor of the presidencies of Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac as well as de Gaulle.

"The Republican right-wing is back. It will fight with implacable will. France cannot wait any more," Pecresse said, promising to make France "respected in the world".

"I will not have a wavering hand against the enemies of the Republic," she added.

Taking aim at far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, Pecresse said: "You do not need to be an extremist to go on the offensive. You do not have to be insulting to convince.

"Unlike the extremists, we will turn the page on Macron but without tearing up the pages of French history."

Macron has yet to declare but is widely expected to seek re-election. Analysts believe he may wait several more weeks before showing his hand to stay above the fray of day-to-day politics.

The announcement of the Republicans candidate means that the main contours for the April 2022 election are largely set.

Source: AFP