French right closes ranks behind Fillon

Feng Xue
By Feng Xue
March 7, 2017Politics

Friends and detractors of Francois Fillon sought to bridge their deep divisions and put the French conservative candidate’s presidential campaign back on the rails on Tuesday (March 7) after deciding to stick with him despite a damaging financial scandal.

A member of Fillon’s team said reconciliation talks would begin with discontented centrists of the UDI party, who announced last week that they were withdrawing support for Fillon and his party, The Republicans.

Others members of his campaign team went on radio to deliver a call for unity, saying victory was still possible.

Senior “The Republicans” politician Gerard Larcher readily admitted that he had expressed his doubts about Fillon but said that the decision of a crisis meeting of the party on Monday (March 6) was final and that he backed the candidate.

“It’s not that I have changed my mind, it’s that today there is no alternative to Francois Fillon, he has to lead the project, the debate is over. I was the one who announced that and I acknowledge that. I stand side by side with Francois Fillon to share this project which is the best one and the only one which can sort out France,” he said.

“Nobody can deny that the last two months have been a real ordeal, of course they have, it’s the truth. And it’s fair enough that people had doubts. But this morning is it my place to add doubts to those doubts, or is to remove the doubt by saying now it’s time to straighten up, campaign, present the ideas of the right and the centre and yes we can still win,” The Republicans lawmaker Luc Chatel said.

Fillon, at one point the favorite, has sunk to third place in opinion polls as he faces an investigation into allegations he paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for doing very little work as his parliamentary assistant. He denies wrongdoing.

The former prime minister now faces the prospect of being knocked out in the first round on April 23, leaving independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to contest a runoff two weeks later.

Fillon, accompanied by his wife, held a large rally in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday—a show of strength in the face of doubts about his ability to lead the party to victory.

Supporter Patricia Cail attended the rally and she said she still believed he could win.

“I’m angry with the system, the judges, his supporters who’ve given up on him, so we have to support him. I believe in that man and his programme,” she said.

Right-leaning voter Philippe Renard said he might have voted for Fillon in the election before the scandal blew up, but now he was tempted by Macron.

“When you embezzle money … When we embezzle money we get into trouble, so why does nothing happen to him? So I wouldn’t vote for him. I don’t think he can win,” he said.

In legal terms The Republicans have no way to stop Fillon from standing despite the damage his campaign has suffered from the scandal, which has prompted some key aides to resign.

France’s constitutional court on Monday issued a reminder that once a candidate has registered the necessary sponsors, only he or she has the power to withdraw.


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