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ELECTION

Fillon is down but he’s far from out, this is France remember

While the combative François Fillon faces a huge fight to become the next president of France, there are a few reasons why it would be foolish to dismiss his chances just yet.

Fillon is down but he’s far from out, this is France remember
Photo: AFP

On Wednesday morning, François Fillon appeared out for the count, his election chances in ruins and his dreams of becoming the next president of France in tatters.

He had just cancelled a visit to the Paris farm show, a must for any candidate who wants to be French president, and then it emerged he would hold a hastily arranged press conference.

With reports that he and his wife were to be formally charged over the fake jobs scandal, rumours began to swirl that this would be the moment the conservative Fillon finally threw the towel in the ring, perhaps under pressure from his Republicans party who had decided that their man could not fight on.

But then to pretty much everyone’s shock, not least those writing his political obituaries, Fillon got up off the canvas and started throwing haymaker punches around, aiming swings at the magistrates and the press for trying to “politically assassinate” him.

“I won't give in, I won't surrender and I won't withdraw,” he said.

His rival, the rising star Emmanuel Macron, accused Fillon of “losing his nerve” but was probably secretly glad he had stayed in the fight, given polls suggest that he has gained the most from the fake jobs scandal.

Shortly after Fillon’s aggressive performance in front of the press, ally Bruno Le Maire quit his team, saying he could not support a man who had gone back on his word – Fillon had initially said he would quit the race if charged. Many voters would surely follow his lead.

Then the UDI party, an ally of Fillon’s Republicans, said it was meeting to decide whether it could continue to back the candidate, who only back in November was considered a shoe-in for the Elysée. It was then announced the party was cutting links with Fillon's campaign.

Another blow.

Meanwhile Fillon headed off to the farm show to stroke some cows and get chased by a mob of journalists while crowds made it clear his future could go one of two ways. Some shouted “Fillon president”, while other shouted “Fillon en prison”.

Despite his determination, the candidate, who handsomely won the centre-right primary, now appeared a lame duck in a race increasingly dominated by the outsiders Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron.

But it would unwise to rule out François Fillon just yet, even if he is clearly fighting an uphill battle to make it to the crucial second round of the election.

The first round is still over seven weeks away. That’s a long time in French politics in a normal year but it’s an eternity in this year’s remarkably unpredictable race.

In other words, Fillon still has time to pull off what would be a remarkable come back.

His big hope lies in the fact that despite the fake jobs scandal he can still call on a solid base of support and an electorate somewhat more accepting of politicians' wrongdoing than the UK or Scandinavia for example. Remember a recent poll by Cevipof think tank depressingly revealed that 75 percent of French people believe their politicians are corrupt and not honest.

While he has suffered in the polls, his support has hardly crumbled and remained between 18 and 20 percent, for the first round. That's a long way behind Le Pen (around 27 percent) but not Macron.

Fillon knows that the right-wing supporters, the same ones who twice elected a scandal-hit Jacques Chiraq in 1995 and 2002, will remain loyal to their candidate, no matter what.

Those supporters who have packed out his rallies are, like Fillon himself, convinced he is the victim of a political and media witch hunt, orchestrated by the government.

The right simply cannot bear the idea of losing an election that was considered only theirs to lose. Party big wigs know this, which is probably why they have stuck by Fillon rather than persuaded Alain Juppé or another right wing candidate to step forward.

Fillon’s other big hope is Emmanuel Macron’s inexperience.

While those on the centre right won’t be tempted by either Marine Le Pen or the leftist Benoit Hamon and his plan to pay everyone a universal basic income, they are seduced by the maverick Macron, whose rise has been extraordinary.

But Macron has already shown he is vulnerable and his support is far from loyal.

After making statements about French colonisation – it was a “crime against humanity” and France’s anti-gay marriage movement – they were “humiliated – Macron tumbled swiftly in the polls.

Macron’s support is growing but it’s far from blind faith, as is the case for Le Pen and Fillon’s core support.

Plus there are suggestions the Russians are gunning for Macron in the hope undermining his campaign to the benefit of either Fillon or Le Pen, both open admirers of Vladimir Putin.

You get the feeling one scandal or damaging story for Macron could shift the momentum back in favour of Fillon.

There's also the possibility that unforseen events, such as the recent riots in the banlieues, the ongoing migrant crisis, or another terrorist attack could yet favour Fillon over Macron, who is portrayed as being soft on hot button issues of security, immigration and identity.

And remember, Fillon only really has to make the second round.

Once there and once up against Marine Le Pen, Fillon should emerge as the winner, perhaps not as convincingly as he would like, but the anti-National Front vote should still see him granted the keys to the Elysée. At least that's what the latest polls suggest.

Bookies in the UK are offering 4 to 1 odds on Fillon becoming president, behind the favourite Macron at 10/11 and Marine Le Pen, the second favourite at 9/4.

If you have a spare €20, why not?

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ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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