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French Socialist Party First Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis attends the New Year news conference at their rue de Solferino headquarters in Paris, France, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

(reuters_tickers)

By Ingrid Melander

PARIS (Reuters) - France's ruling Socialist Party (PS) will stay in the running for the presidency no matter what despite poor opinion poll ratings, its top official said on Wednesday, while acknowledging a divided Left has little chance of winning.

President Francois Hollande's PS party and its allies are this month choosing their candidate for the April and May presidential election, which secretary general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said he hoped would attract some two million voters.

The PS is in fifth place in the polls with no chance of qualifying for the election's second round run-off, well behind former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is standing as an independent, and also trailing far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.

"He won't pull out," Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said when asked if the yet-to-be-appointed Socialist nominee might eventually withdraw to help another left-wing candidate win.

"He can't. If he's appointed by two million people, why would he pull out?" he said in an interview with Reuters and a small group of European newspapers.

"We won't pull out because of opinion polls. If we give in to opinion polls, then why have an election at all?"

The PS has been in power for the past five years but Hollande, dogged by growing unpopularity and high unemployment, said in December he would not seek a second mandate.

The frontrunners for the left-wing Jan. 22 and 29 primaries are his ex-prime minister Manuel Valls and ex-ministers Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon.

The problem for the French Left is that at this stage no one, except Macron in one recent poll, is seen having a chance at making it to the May 7 election run-off, the deciding round for the top two candidates in the April 23 first vote.

That has brought calls on all sides for alliances, but with each camp refuses to give in. Macron and Melenchon have both said they will stick to their presidential bid no matter what.

"At this stage no one from the Left goes to the second round," Cambadelis said. "And everyone thinks they can win the match (within the Left)."

He brushed off the Socialists' poor ratings, peaking at about 13 percent this month, saying he expected in any case that winning the primaries would be a boost for the later stages.

Macron's growing popularity and the support he has even among Socialists is a big focus in France, but Cambadelis said he expected that no more than about 15 Socialist lawmakers would eventually back him.

Those who do would lose all chance of running with PS colours in the parliamentary elections due in June, he said.

Cambadelis said he expected Hollande not to back any particular candidate in the first round of the presidential election, especially not Macron whom Cambadelis says "betrayed" his former boss.

"What matters for me is that we win the presidential if we can, and that if we lose the Socialist Party is still standing," Cambadelis said, noting that the aim of the primaries was to force the party, divided between its left-wing camp spearheaded by Hamon and Montebourg and the more centrist Valls, to unite.

The PS has about 100,000 members, compared with 160,000 ten years ago, he said.

Opinion polls forecast that conservative Francois Fillon is most likely to face far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election's second round and win it.

(Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by John Irish and Louise Ireland)

Reuters