After a tumultuous week during which the Republican candidate François Fillon, engulfed in a “fake” jobs scandal since January, was placed under investigation but chose to stay in France’s presidential race – something he had promised wouldn’t happen, should the investigation become formal – it looks increasingly likely that he may be forced to quit.
Right after his decision to keep running and therefore failing to honour his promise, Republicans started abandoning the sinking ship. Fillon’s spokesperson Thierry Solère and treasurer Gilles Boyer both resigned from the campaign team this morning, respectively the 66th and 67th supports to leave in less than three days. The Liberation newspaper is updating a list of all defections: at the outset of this article’s writing, there were 68. At the time of publishing, there are 80.
While the last “Fillonists” are organising a demonstration in Paris on Sunday, to support the candidate against the “persecution” of the judges investigating him and the press covering the scandal (because attacking the justice and the media always goes well), the centre right party is sinking in the polls, too, and starting to look for a replacement for François Fillon.
Enter Alain Juppé, a veteran of French politics (he has been a minister under Mitterrand, Chirac’s Prime Minister, and a minister again under Sarkozy), who lost the Republican primary to Fillon last November. Juppé has previously declared that he would not be a “plan B” and that the voters’ choice should be respected. But he now looks like the right’s only viable option to many Republicans – including Marie-Claude Jarrot, a party mayor who has given Juppé his first signature this morning (In the French system, all presidential candidates must receive 500 signatures from elected officials to run).
The latest polls have started to include the scenario of Fillon quitting in Juppé’s favour, and it looks much better for the centre right: Juppé would be ahead of both Macron and Le Pen in the first round. In this scenario, Marine Le Pen wouldn’t even make it to the run-up – this is quite a big reverse, as she has been leading in any previous poll. It’s worth noting that Macron is now predicted to overtake Le Pen in the first round, with or without Fillon:
The latest poll’s odds if Fillon runs.
The odds if Juppé runs instead.
Although other Republicans have been said to be considering a presidential bid, none is a big enough name to take over Fillon. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has officially left politics after failing to reach the second round of the primary in November. (In quite a Nigel Farage fashion, he had previously “quit” in 2012.) He has kept quiet during the Fillon scandal and while he is reportedly furious over a potential Juppé run, his isn’t a viable name for a last-minute candidacy either. The process of a replacement itself is not clear: the situation is unprecedented, and the candidacy deadline (March 17) fast approaching.
François Fillon’s presidential bid may not survive the weekend, but Alain Juppé’s would not necessarily be great news either. Ironically, he was convicted for collusion in 2004, in a fake jobs case during his time working for Chirac’s leadership at the Paris city hall. He was given a suspended sentence of 14 months in prison and was ineligible for a year, which he spent teaching in Quebec, before going back to French politics as the mayor of Bordeaux in 2006.
Talk about an interesting election.