France's troubled rightwing Republicans elect new leader

"The Republicans will not regain their place as a great, popular and open rightwing party unless they revive the promise of bringing people together," Jacob said after his victory (AFP Photo/MARTIN BUREAU)

Paris (AFP) - France's rightwing Republicans (LR) on Sunday elected Christian Jacob, the current head of the troubled party's parliamentary group, to steer them to municipal elections in March.

The 59-year-old former minister, who was the favourite in the poll, was elected in the first round with 62.58 percent of the vote, the party said.

With five months to go before France holds municipal elections, Jacob will be tasked with turning around the fortunes of a party that has been in decline for two years.

The Republicans won just 8.48 percent in May's European Parliament elections, compared with 22.23 percent in France's 2017 parliamentary polls.

The rout led then LR leader Laurent Wauquiez to step down from the party formerly called the Union for a Popular Movement, which won the presidency under Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

Speaking after his victory, Jacob said: "The Republicans will not regain their place as a great, popular and open rightwing party unless they revive the promise of bringing people together."

The March municipal elections will be a "moment of truth", Jacob said.

LR membership has declined from 235,000 in 2017 to some 135,000 today.