Fillon fights on despite divides

Fillon fights on despite divides

Former French prime minister François Fillon meets Russian President Vladimir Putin. Fillon is seen as being too deeply embedded with the political establishment. Source: Kremlin

François Fillon, the embattled centre-right French presidential hopeful, has survived a threat that rival Alain Juppé would challenge him for the party ticket. Juppé announced he had decided “once and for all” not to run.

A second threat, that the Republicans party would dump Fillon, was also averted yesterday. Party leaders met in Paris to say that they had agreed unanimously to support him.

Fillon, 63, reportedly told the meeting that unity was essential ahead of the first round of voting on April 23. Hundreds of former Fillon supporters have distanced themselves from him but now no replacement seems likely despite the rifts.

“No one can stop me from being a candidate,” Fillon the France 2 channel.

At the end of January, before the scandal broke, the former prime minister was the clear favourite to win the two-stage election, with the run-off due on May 7.

Shortly afterwards, according to a poll tracker by AFP, he fell behind the centrist Emmanuel Macron, 39, and only one poll out of more than 20 since then has shown him ahead of Macron.

A poll at the weekend of 1,027 voters showed only 29 per cent of voters wanted Fillon to remain in the race.

“He’s got some breathing space, but he needs to ask himself if he can still win the election,” one unnamed MP from his party told AFP.

Juppé, who is mayor Bordeaux, said told the media that the presidential campaign had been dominated by “unprecedented” confusion.

“What a waste,” he said, accusing Fillon of squandering the previously strong chances of winning.

Juppé ran in the Republicans primaries in November but lost to the more hard-line Fillon.

He condemned Fillon’s “obstinacy” and said the candidate’s dismissive response to the corruption allegations against him were “a dead end”.

The disarray has benefited pro-business Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Macron only founded his party “En Marche” (On the Move) last April but events have reinforced his demands to overthrow the “same men and the same ideas”.

Polls show Macron now closing in on Le Pen with around 25-per-cent support with Macron the most likely winner in the May 7 runoff.

“I’m tempted to vote [for Le Pen’s] Front National even though I don’t share a lot of their ideas,” unemployed Michel Travigne, 51, told AFP in Sarthe. “It’s just to get rid of everyone.”


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