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ELECTION

Failure for Fillon: How the one-time hot favourite watched his campaign collapse

French conservative candidate Francois Fillon was one of the early favourites to become president, but his hopes of playing on his experience to win votes collapsed as a fake jobs scandal engulfed his campaign.

Failure for Fillon: How the one-time hot favourite watched his campaign collapse
Photo: AFP

The former prime minister was charged in March with misuse of public funds over the employment of his British-born wife Penelope as a parliamentary assistant for 15 years.

READ ALSO: Fillon's wife Penelope charged over fake jobs scandal 

It was a severe blow to the 63-year-old, who clinched the nomination for the Republicans party — France's main centre-right party — in November by presenting himself as unsullied by the scandals that surrounded his rival and former boss, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The allegations that Penelope had earned €680,000 for a fictional role were first reported by Le Canard Enchainé newspaper in January.

Fillon's reaction was to strongly deny that either he or his wife had done anything wrong and to claim his left-wing rivals were operating a “secret cell” to blacken his name.

It was a response that drew scorn from Socialist President Francois Hollande and surprised even some of Fillon's allies.

After backtracking on an early promise to withdraw his candidacy if he was charged, Fillon found himself in the unlikely position of running as an anti-establishment rebel determined to defy the government, magistrates and
the media he said were working against him.

Subsequent revelations that a wealthy French-Lebanese lawyer bought handmade suits for Fillon worth €13,000 each drew further ire from his opponents.

In the end he trailed home in the first round of the election behind projected winners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, a result his campaign coordinator admitted was a “huge disappointment”.

'Iron-fisted' approach

Fillon's policy offer was based on deep cuts in public spending and slashing hundreds of thousands of jobs from France's bloated civil service.

He also proposed attacking one of the sacred cows of the French left, the 35-hour working week, raising it to 39 hours.

A leaner, meaner France could, he argued, rival Germany as the foremost economy in the eurozone within a decade.

In TV debates, Fillon stressed that of all the candidates only he had experience of running the country.

In the wake of the killing of a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees avenue on Thursday, he said that for years, “I have been warning that we are facing an Islamic totalitarianism” and promised an “iron-fisted” approach.

His outspokenness stood in contrast to his image as prime minister, of a quiet and urbane man whose steady temperament contrasted with the impulsive Sarkozy who once dismissed him as “Mr Nobody”.

Once the youngest member of parliament at age 27, the devoutly Catholic Fillon voted against gay marriage when it was legalised in 2013.

The self-declared “Gaullist” — a form of nationalism that proposes an independent and strong France — also has a close bond with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two men overlapped as prime ministers from 2008-2012 and their closeness led to questions about Fillon's foreign policy.

Country manor

Fillon and his Welsh wife met at university in France when they were in their early twenties.

They soon married and live in an imposing manor house near Le Mans in northern France where they brought up their five children.

Two of their children have also had paid work for their father in parliament, performing roles as “legal advisors” despite not being qualified lawyers at the time.

Penelope was until recently a low-key political wife, a keen horse-rider who once described herself as a country “peasant” who preferred the countryside to Paris.

READ ALSO: Who is Penelope Fillon?

In examining Fillon's insistence that his wife has “always” worked to help his career, French media homed in on previous comments she made.

“Until now, I have never got involved in my husband's political life,” Penelope told regional newspaper Le Bien Public last year.

READ ON: Full coverage of French Presidential Election 2017

 

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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