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Fillon scandal: what does it all mean for the French presidential election?

Francois Fillon (C), former French prime minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right walks in vineyards after a meeting with winegrowers in Nimes, France, March 2, 2017.
Francois Fillon (C), former French prime minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right walks in vineyards after a meeting with winegrowers in Nimes, France, March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Embattled right-wing presidential candidate Francois Fillon is trying to keep his campaign on track after he revealed he is to be charged over a fake jobs scandal. The new revelation led dozens of right-wing MPs to withdraw their support for Fillon. RFI takes a look at what it means for the upcoming presidential elections.

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What is François Fillon being accused of?

The 62-year-old former prime minister faces accusations that he used public funds to pay his British-born wife, Penelope, and two of their children around 900,000 euros for fake parliamentary jobs.

The allegation is that they were paid for work they didn't do.

Fillon announced on Wednesday that he had been summoned by investigating magistrates to meet with them on 15 March... that's when he is expected to be officially charged.

He had pledged to step down if he was charged, but has since backtracked on that promise.

Fillon was for a long time considered the favourite of the presidential race. Has that changed?

It has. In the past few weeks, polls have projected Fillon coming in third place in the first round of the election, behind far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

"Right now, it looks like the electorate will support François Fillon," says Bruno Cautres, a political expert with Sciences Po. "But it looks like he has reached a maximum support, at around 20 to 21 percent. If Fillon wants to qualify for the second round he will need more to counter the dynamism of Emmanuel Macron.

"He will probably need 23 to 24 percent of the share of the vote. It looks near impossible for him."

Is this damaging France's main opposition Les Républicains party?

It is, and Fillon's support is ebbing away right now.

MP Bruno Le Maire quit his team and criticised him while the UDI, a small centrist party, said it was "suspending" its support and would decide whether to withdraw its backing for good.

So far, according to newspaper Libération, 35 Les Républicains politicians have withdrawn their support for Fillon.

"If Macron wins, I think Les Républicains will be in a situation where they ask themselves what to do," says Philippe Marlière, a professor of French politics at University College London. "The moderate wing of Les Républicains is likely to not join, but support Macron."

Who benefits from Fillon's troubles?

First and foremost, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. The former economy minister has surged from outsider to frontrunner in the race less than a year.

With his centrist programme, that he unveiled this Thursday, he could get the support of some disillusioned Fillon voters.

"It's good for Macron because it will consolidate this image that French politics need a new generation," says Bruno Cautres. "This morning, he gave a speech where he was quite clear about modernisation and the moralisation of French politics."

Far-right Marine Le Pen, who is expected to advance to the second round, is also likely to benefit from this scandal.

"A Le Pen victory still seems unlikely, but it's no longer a hypothesis that you can brush aside," says Philippe Marlière.

"It's no longer completely crazy. She could win it. Macron is the strongman now, but there are still two months left. Rest assured that if he remains the arch-favourite, all the other candidates are going to start scrutinising and criticising him very strongly."

There are still two months left before the presidential elections. And if the next eight weeks are anything like the last few months, anything could happen.
 

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