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French press review 28 November 2016

There's an awful lot in today's papers about François Fillon, the man who won yesterday's second round in the right-wing primary and will represent mainstream conservatives in next year's elections.


François Fillon's next stop will be the French presidential palace, according to the right-wing daily Le Figaro.

"Fillon crushes Juppé" is the way the paper summarises the result of yesterday's second round in the primary election to choose a mainstream right-wing candidate to contest next year's French presidential election. Of the four million or so people who voted yesterday, roughly two-thirds supported Fillon, with about 33 percent choosing his rival Alain Juppé.

Yesterday's electorate was predominantly conservative, even if the right-wing primary was technically open to all. Fillon now has to convince a wider population that he can put an end to France's political stagnation while avoiding the dangers of division and divisiveness.

In his victory speech last night, Fillon dismissed the left as a dead-end, and the far right as politically bankrupt. He went on to say that France needs to be set on a completely new course.

What the opinion polls say

Believe it or not, the opinion pollsters are still alive and well and going about their business.

Last night, according to a Harris poll, Fillon would collect 26 percent of votes and beat Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in the first round of the presidential election by two points.

If current president François Hollande decides to have a shot at it, he will get nine percent of votes, well behind former economy minister Emmanuel Macron with 14 percent and hard-left contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 13.

But, to put those figures into perspective, just remember that Fillon was not given any chance of winning yesterday's primary by the vast majority of opinion polls less than two weeks ago.

Maybe there should be a health warning with each new sounding of the French political abyss. Something like "Opinion polls can damage your sense of reality".

The hard part is still to come

Left-leaning Libération warns that last night's resounding victory was the easy part of the job for the man who hopes to be the next French president. This is because Fillon will be obliged to abandon much of his radical posture if he's to attract a wider electorate, it believes. He may be in tune with the party faithful, but can he sing the same song on the national stage?

Worse, says Libé, Fillon's policies are going to be virtually impossible to sell to centrist supporters, may give the left the boost it needs to stop all the murderous infighting and at the same time encourage the isolationist line promoted by the National Front. That, says Libération, will leave Fillon struggling to mobilise a winning number of votes in a national election. His success will depend, according to the left-leaning daily, on his ability to sell his ultraliberal economic ideas.

The basic fact of the French political stage currently is that the electorate is roughly divided into equal thirds, supporting left, right and far right respectively. The margin guaranteeing success is thus very narrow.

And remember, according to an opinion poll carried out last month, at least 60 percent of French voters reject Fillon's core propositions - 500,000 fewer civil servants, work till you're 65, longer hours, higher VAT to compensate for fewer charges on businesses.

The man who would-be president needs to move closer to the centre before he launches his new campaign, according to Libération. Which may amount to betraying the very qualities that saw him win so handsomely yesterday.

Eighteen million euros will do very nicely, thank you

Business paper Les Echos notes that Fillon's election was very good for his Republicans party, which charged each voter two euros to the right to cast a ballot. Taking the two rounds together, that comes to something like 18 million euros into the party coffers.

The same Les Echos looks at how the other political groups have been reacting to Fillon's victory.

Roughly speaking, the left is on the attack, the centre is scratching its bum and the far right is screaming vituperation.

Some Socialists think there's a lesson of unity to be learned from their opponents. The problem will be convincing those currently lost in the rift valley that is the French left.

The ecologists keep on calling Fillon "reactionary", saying France needs to elect a progressive leader.

The centre, as represented by the Union of Democrats and Independents and François Bayrou's Modem, has all along supported Juppé. So there's a certain amount of embarrassed throat-clearing and shuffling going on there. They are to hold a congress to sort the whole mess out.

And Marine Le Pen is like a hen trying to lay a square egg. She says Fillon offers the worst social programme ever proposed by a presidential candidate. That no previous contender has gone so far in the effort to satistfy the ultraliberal demands of the European Union. Le Pen also says Fillon will open the doors of the Salafist mosques and close the nation's factories.

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