Francois Fillon claims there is a left-wing “institutional coup d’etat” against him as pressure mounts for him to resign from his bid for the Presidency. However, very few are convinced. A poll published on Tuesday suggests that 76% of public opinion is not persuaded of Fillon’s innocence. The pressure is mounting for Fillon to resign.
The center-right candidate was leading the polls until last Monday. He is now mired for putting his wife Penelope on high payrolls as an assistant, for jobs she allegedly did not do. At different times, she could be making as much as €10,000 as his parliamentary assistant, with no evidence she ever visited the parliament. The cost for the taxpayer was approximately €900,000. The revelation came last week by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, with updates on details this week.
That is the main story across the French media landscape.
Initially, Fillon’s archrival Marine Le Pen remained silent on the issue, as she is facing her own case of misusing European Parliament funds. But, on Wednesday, she said that Fillon no longer enjoys voters’ confidence.
On Tuesday, Republican Members of Parliament spoke anonymously to Reuters, suggesting there was already talk of a “Plan B” in case Mr. Fillon resigned. On Wednesday, MPs are speaking on the record. The BBC cites Georges Fenech, who called Mr. Fillon’s victory in November’s Republican primaries “obsolete.” He spoke of the need for an urgent decision.
But, the Republicans are in uncharted waters. Speaking to France 24, the organizer of the Republican primaries, Thierry Solère, noted that there is no procedure in the statutes of the party in the event a candidate drops out. With elections looming in April, there will be no second primaries.
So, the question is “who” could replace Fillon.
Fillon will not drop out, but he has vowed to resign if he is charged. Speaking again on condition of anonymity to Reuters, a Republican MP said Fillon asked his peers for 15 days for the inquiry to proceed long enough to clear him.
No matter what happens, the damage is done. A Tuesday poll published by Les Echos on Wednesday suggests Fillon is down by 5-6%. Le Pen’s appeal has surged by 3%.Fillon won the primaries in November as the family man who publically exposed his Catholicism and left no doubts as to his integrity. That image is now tarnished. And his former foe, Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, has made clear he is not running as a substitute.
Therefore, the race is now Macron versus Le Pen, unless the Republicans substitute Fillon.
Meanwhile, political uncertainty is leading French borrowing costs to surge to their worst level since 2008.