France - Politics

Fillon under pressure to quit as 'fake job' row rages on

Francois Fillon former French prime minister, member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, reacts as he attends a political rally in Paris, France, January 29, 2017.
Francois Fillon former French prime minister, member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, reacts as he attends a political rally in Paris, France, January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

France faces a week of political uncertainty with Francois Fillon, the rightwing presidential candidate, under mounting pressure to quit the race because of a fake-jobs-for-the-family scandal and divisions over whether, and how, to replace him. 

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As Fillon's two closest rivals, the far-right's Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron, began vigorously campaigning, the former prime minister appeared to believe he could ride out the storm engulfing his faltering campaign.

Fillon said he would fight to the end to defend his position as the party's nominee. A source in his camp said he would likely reinforce that message on Monday.

Defying opinion polls that show a dizzy downward slide to a point where the one-time favorite is now trailing in third place, he told supporters: "Hold the line."

"We'll get through this ordeal together and march on to victory," he said in a video message on Facebook.

Fillon's camp on Saturday distributed 3 million leaflets entitled "Stop the Manhunt", painting the scandal as a left-wing conspiracy and declaring: "Enough is enough".

The 62-year-old, a champion of free-market policies to reinvigorate France's heavily regulated economy, has seen his campaign unravel in the two weeks since newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported his wife Penelope had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros as a parliamentary assistant for work she had not really done.

Seen two weeks ago as the comfortable favorite to win the keys to the Elysee palace, opinion polls now show Fillon failing to reach the May 7 runoff vote.

Humiliation

It has been a humiliating reversal of fortune for Fillon, a devout Catholic and father of five children, who had campaigned as an honest politician.

Since the scandal broke, he and his wife have been interviewed by the fraud police, his office in parliament has been searched, and the inquiry has now been extended to two of his grown-up children.

The accusations also sit uncomfortably with his economic plans for setting France back on to its feet include slashing public spending and sacking half a million public servants.

If he is forced to quit as the center-right's nominee, it would be unprecedented in six decades of French politics.

The stakes are high for France's Right which had looked likely to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande.

 

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