Ex-President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been beaten in the contest for a centre-right presidential candidate. His defeat signals his withdrawal from politics in France.

Sunday’s contest was won by Francois Fillon, a free-market liberal, with 44% of the vote. Alain Juppe finished in second place.

Fillon and Juppe will face each other in a run-off next Sunday and the winner will be nominated to compete in the 2017 presidential election where they will likely face far-right leader, Marine Le Pen.

More than four million people turned out to vote in Sunday’s primary, a far higher number than expected. Polls suggest that the centre-right candidate will win the second round in May.

In conceding, Monsieur Sarkozy, 61, said: “I have no bitterness, I have no sadness, and I wish the best for my country.” He announced that he would be taking a step back from politics and embarking “on a life with more private passions and fewer public passions”.

Sarkozy told journalists that he now supported Monsieur Fillon, 62, whose “political choices” were closer to his own than those of Monsieur Juppe.

Monsieur Fillon served as Monsieur Sarkozy’s prime minister whilst he was the French President between 2007 and 2012.