Scandal-hit Fillon back in French presidential race

Scandal-hit Fillon back in French presidential raceFillon appeared alongside his former rival Alain Juppé on Wednesday, four days before the first round of voting.

This is reported by The Guardian.

For three months, from November to January, Fillon – a free-market liberal and social conservative in a country where that mix is almost unknown – was the firm favourite to be the next occupant of the Elysée palace.

To the surprise of many, the former prime minister had comfortably seen off the former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the more moderate Juppé to win the nomination of the centre-right Les Républicains party. The Thatcherite-style reforms Fillon promised for what he called a “bankrupt” France – cutting taxes and public spending, slashing public sector jobs, raising the retirement age and liberalising labour laws – were tough but necessary, his supporters felt.

His sober manner and polished image as the responsible, clean-hands candidate put him up with the far-right leader Marine Le Pen at the top of the first-round poll.

But then the satirical and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed he had paid his British-born wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for parliamentary assistance she allegedly did not provide.

A stream of further allegations followed: that Fillon had set up similar, short-term work for his children; got a billionaire friend to pay Penelope for a non-job on his literary magazine; accepted gifts of bespoke suits and watches worth tens of thousands. Reports surfaced that a consultancy set up by Fillon in 2012 had since earned more than €1m from sometimes decidedly dubious sources, and there were claims that a Lebanese billionaire had paid Fillon paid $50,000 for an introduction to Vladimir Putin.

Both Fillon and his wife were placed under formal investigation for abuse of public funds last month. He has blamed a plot by leftwing political rivals including the outgoing Socialist president, François Hollande, magistrates and the media.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, but has admitted having made some mistakes. “I’m not asking you to love me,” he implored at one recent Paris rally. “I’m just asking you to support me, because it is in France’s interests.”

Fillon at one stage shed up to 10 points in the polls, slipping far behind Le Pen and the fast-rising independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. Last week the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon surged into third place in some polls.

The two frontrunners are running out of steam as the first round nears, but Fillon’s support has firmed. Rightwing voters previously tempted by Macron to the centre and Le Pen further to the right may be returning to the fold.
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