François Fillon: the French politician who is remarkably still in the presidential race. Just how has this been achieved?
At the beginning of March, François Fillon was told that he will be indicted under the accusation of a “fake job” given to his wife for around 10 years while he was an MP. An investigation had been opened in February after the satirical newspaper “Le Canard Enchainé” broke the story. Fillon has always denied the accusations, saying that his wife did work for him for a long time but, as nepotism is perfectly legal in France, he did nothing illegal. After the story he plummeted in the polls – he used to be the front-runner. He stayed in the race claiming only an indictment would stop him.
When Fillon received the letter saying that he would be indicted in ten days, he was scheduled to visit the Agriculture Convention, a mandatory stop for every presidential candidate. That morning, when his supporters and the press found out that he was not coming, most of his closest allies had no idea what was happening. Fillon quickly announced that he was not stopping his campaign – even though he said he would – as there was not enough time to find an alternative candidate fifty days before the first round. As he largely won the centre-right primary in December, winning 66% of more than four million votes, he had to incorporate many members of the losing campaigns into his own. After the story broke, those people quickly started defecting, or “leaving the boat” as commentators started to say. Supporters of Alain Juppé, the finalist in the primary and for a long time its frontrunner, began campaigning for his return. Two deputy campaign directors, several spokespersons, and many people involved in the campaign started to ask that Fillon renounce his candidacy. He started to poll at only 18% of voting intentions, four to six points behind Macron and Le Pen.
Fillon could not care less. He had reached the sponsorships threshold (500 signatures from elected officials are needed to run for President) and was then free to run – nothing could stop him. He and his closest supporters decided to call for a support rally on the Trocadero Place the following Sunday. Most of the right and centre establishment condemned the organisation of the rally. The Union of Independent Democrats (UDI), a centrist party allied to the Republicans, suspended their support of the candidate. Most of the former presidential candidates said they would not be present, sponsorships started to be filled for alternative candidates to run instead and most people expected it to be a complete fiasco.
Then the day came, and it surprised most of the French political world. The place was filled by supporters shouting for Fillon to stay in the race. Between 40,000 and 200,000 people rallied. A debate began in the media on which figures should be announced – some said the figures announced by Fillon’s campaign were ludicrious. Yet the area of the Trocadero lends itself to crowds of hundreds of thousands of people, so it is not crazy to say that more than 100,000 people showed their support for the former Prime Minister. After this show of strength, the opposition within the centre-right establishment ceased. Juppé told supporters that he was gone for good and would not run again, most of the right-wing politicians rallied with Fillon once again and the UDI affirmed they would continue their alliance with the candidate and his party. Fillon went up in the polls and is now back at his pre-indictment position (20-21%, three to four points behind Le Pen and Macron). Most people thought he was politically dead, it seems that he was not. This crazy campaign makes for a good comeback story.
Featured image: Wikicommons