Leaders of Francois Fillon's rightwing Republicans party on Monday “unanimously” renewed their support for their
embattled presidential candidate, after veteran conservative Alain Juppé resisted calls to step in as an alternative runner.
“The political committee, after a wide-ranging exchange, unanimously renewed its support for Francois Fillon,” Senate speaker Gerard Larcher told reporters after around 20 party seniors met to “evaluate” the crisis sparked by the fake jobs scandal clouding Fillon's campaign.
Fillon, 63, had told the meeting that Juppe's definitive decision not to run “confirmed that there isn't a plan B” to his candidacy, according to a text of his remarks sent to AFP.
With just seven weeks to go before the country goes to the polls in a two-stage vote, Fillon said: “We have lost too much time with vain debates, leaving the way open for the far right and candidates on the left who are rubbing their hands over our disunity.”
In a sombre statement earlier Monday, Juppe, 71, said he would not stand in for Fillon, whom he criticised for his defiance of the justice system and swipes at the media.
He also said France was “sick” and suffering from a “profound crisis of confidence”.
Polls suggested Juppe would be more popular with voters, but the centrist is considered too soft on immigration and other social issues for many of Fillon's supporters on the right flank of the party.
Juppe's decision removes a major rival for Fillon, who is sticking with his bid for power despite the prospect of criminal charges later this month as well as mounting criticism within the party and falling poll numbers.
Fillon was once the favourite to be France's next leader but his campaign is mired in accusations he used public funds to pay his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for fake parliamentary jobs.
Insisting that his is “the only legitimate” candidacy, Fillon said “our voters will not forgive those who maintain the poison of division”.
Although it appears now that he will be in the first round on April 23rd Fillon is far from certain of making it to the crucial second round.
Both liberal Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are ahead of him in the polls.
He has little time to make the ground up but after hanging on against all the odds and the pressure to quit, who would bet against Fillon pulling off another surprise?