With only seven weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, no one is talking policy. Everyone is talking “Fillon” instead. And all the conversations and predictions are about whether this candidate should stay or go. Three days ago, 100 political chiefs deserted him.
Yesterday, the Plan B candidate, Alain Juppe, officially proclaimed he would not run. So today, Francois Fillon is back – and it looks like he’s going to stay. His strategy is just to keep standing and let the others come and go as they please. That seems to be working for him. Is it working for France? Only time and votes will tell.
Fillon hosted a rally on March 4th in Paris to insist publicly that he is still the Presidential hopeful. The Fillon team said there were 200,000 people in attendance. Now, that’s the French version of fake news since Trocadero, where the rally was held, can only hold 45,000 people, according to the French police. Polls show that more than 70% of French voters want Fillon to withdraw his candidacy. They want him to resign; name a replacement and ride off into the sunset of a possible indictment that is facing him. But, just like the Elton John song, he’s still standing. Here’s how all this unprecedented mess started.
Back in November, 2016, Francois Fillon won the first-ever Republican party primary with a healthy score of 44%.Things were looking good for him and the party in general. Since this was the first time for a primary, no one thought about what happens if the candidate gets into a legal scandal before the election. As it stands, the only exit for acandidate would be a resignation letter. However, Mr. Fillon is adamant that he is in for the long-haul. The scandal he is now in is being called “PenelopeGate.” He is supposedly about to be charged with creating fictitious employment for his wife Penelope (to the tune of almost a million euros, pretty much the same amount in dollars). The suspicious employment he gave to two of his children while they were law students is also on the judge’s table.
So, for the French right party, the Republican Party, Francois Fillon is a candidate who might (or might not) be indicted on March 15th when he is summoned to court. The far-right populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has also been summoned for financial dealings concerning two members of her staff but she has “solved” her problem by saying she simply won’t go. On the left side of the government, Francois Hollande, the current president, bowed out of the Socialist primary. He chose not to run for the “good of the party” since all polls were saying he was sure to lose. The Socialists had their scandal just before the last election in 2012 but theirs was a sexual one. Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the left front-runner for president, was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York back in May 2011. He subsequently spent a night in Rikers prison and settled the civil case out of court for an undisclosed amount. The accompanying disgrace ended his chances of running for president and that’s when Francois Hollande came into the picture. He was Plan B for the Socialists in 2012.
The French media like to compare their presidential candidates to Trump. Up to now, they were consistently doing this only for Marine Le Pen. She is France’s Populist candidate on the far-right. She is consistently anti-immigration; anti-European and anti-Muslim. However, this week, the media has started to compare Francois Fillon to Donald Trump since he attacked the judicial system which he feels is attacking him (something equivalent to Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judges” who stopped his Executive travel ban order). Mr. Fillon also staged his public “feel-good” rally in Trump fashion and urged his supporters to “resist,” to “fight this strange combat” along with him.
After Fillon’s anti-justice system declaration, his spokesperson resigned; his campaign manager bailed and many elected officials said that Fillon had “crossed the line.” They all point to the fact that Fillon initially said he would pull out of the presidential race if there were to be a formal investigation. There is a formal investigation and Fillon is still running. France is on political hold. The only thing is sure at this point is that Fillon is the candidate for the conservation Republican party. He has managed to “divide and conquer” his party — just by running in place.