Socialist French minister says may vote for centrist Macron

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Forward !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, attends a political rally in Toulon

PARIS (Reuters) – Stephane Le Foll, the French Socialist government’s spokesman and its agriculture minister, said on Tuesday he backs his party’s official candidate Benoit Hamon but might vote for independent centrist Emmanuel Macron instead.

Hamon, elected as candidate in a Socialist party primary in January, is struggling to make an impact on the presidential election. He is pushing a more hard left program that appears to be increasing divisions within the party.

Some left-wing voters also prefer independent leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon to him, and people on the right of the Socialist party are tempted by Macron, who is favorite to win the May 7 runoff according to opinion polls.

“I support the man who has been chosen (by the Socialists), but the moment comes when political responsibility with regard to what is at play, with regard to (far-right National Front leader) Marine Le Pen and with regard also to the program of (conservative) Francois Fillon,” Le Foll said on BFM TV.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is the number two in the cabinet rankings said on Sunday, he had also not decided which way he would vote.

“For Benoit Hamon, the conditions are not yet in place for him to get to the second round. As for Macron, I’m waiting for his program,” Ayrault told Ouest-France newspaper.

Macron is due to unveil his economic program this week.

Le Pen, Fillon and Macron are all vying for a place in the second round run-off that would decide who becomes president, while Hamon is in a distant fourth place.

(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by John Irish)