Robert Harneis-TDO-In a dramatic press conference, Republican candidate François Fillonhas effectively accused the French President François Hollande of organizing ‘political assassination’.
Fillon is charged withmisusing his parliamentary expense allowance by paying it to his wife and children who did little for it.The press statement followed the announcement that he had been summoned to appear before investigating magistrates on March 15, with a view to being prosecuted. He denies the charges.
He theatrically cancelled a high profile traditional visit to the annual Paris agricultural show and left journalists wondering if he was about to withdraw from the election. Instead he counter attacked violently. He pointed to the unseemly speed with which the judges have acted and the curious timing of a summons to appear before them just two days before the deadline for candidates. He complained of confidential documents, available only to judges and police that were leaked to the media – all of them unfavorable to him and none of them revealing his answers to the charges.
In an eight-minute statement, looking self-possessed and relaxed, he called on his supporters not to be hoodwinked and to ‘resist’, a highly emotive word in France that echoes the resistance to the German occupation. He told them that it was not about him but about them being denied representation and finding themselves without a serious candidate to vote for on May 7th.
It is clear that electorally Fillon and his party are in a tight corner. The revelations that have caused havoc with his campaign came at a time when it was virtually impossible for him to be replaced by anyone of sufficient stature and with a political outlook that Republican voters would accept.Whatever Fillon’s short comings, Sarkozy and Juppé, his rivals, were both firmly rejected by the four million voters in the Republican primary.
His other weakness is that the policies that appealed to the party militants and sympathizerswho voted for him in the primary, were immediately unpopular with much of the rest of the electorate, when they became aware of them. This was notably the case with the scheme to privatize the health service or part of it. Fillon does not seem to have gauged the extent of the rejection by the public of liberalism and the free enterprise doctrine generally. The result is he is now trailing in third place in the polls behind National Front candidate Marine Le pen and Emmanuel Macron who is standing as an independent centrist.
However, all is not lost for Fillon. He can trim his policies to the electoral wind. After campaigning for irreproachable conduct in political life, he has naturally been seriously damaged by the revelation that he was cavalier with his expensed account. But legally it is still far from clear that he has committed any offence. He has received quiet support from a respected former Procureur General of Paris,François Faletti. Speaking on RTL info, the former top prosecutor agreed that it ‘is never useful to attack the judges’ but also said it was an ‘exceptional case’ and that he understood Fillon’s ‘exceptional reaction’. Heavoided directly criticizing his former judicial colleagues, but pointed out that rushing the case forward at this critical time could not possibly lead to a result before the elections.So why the hurry? He added that it was understandable that ‘a candidate for the presidential elections should have reacted as he has’, bearing in mind the leaks and the timing. He also confirmed that whilst there was no such thing as a judicial truce in an election, he himself had always been most cautious about appearing to influence an election by acting against a particular candidate during the campaign.
Procureur Falleti is only stating in guarded terms what many French electors believe, that regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issues, Fillon and Le Pen as well, have been the victims of governmental and judicial manipulation to make it as difficult as possible for them to win the elections. It is equally obvious to them that this favors Emmanuel Macron who is campaigning to carry on and develop the policies of Hollande’s presidency.
Fillon’s attack on the government and the judiciary, both of whom are unpopular, has been combined with a direct appeal to the electorate to give him their votes. Although he has lost some support from amongst his political colleagues and ‘friends’, his calculation is that the anti-socialist vote – always around 50% of the electorate - will decide that it is in their interest to rally to him, whatever they think about his personal financial indiscretions. Their only alternative being to support a Front National adventurer, Marine Le Pen, or an immature unknown in the person of Macron.
There may be a deeper calculation. Fillon and his fellow party leaders realize that it is not just about who is President, but as important, who has a majority in the parliamentary elections that come afterwards. By claiming that the presidential elections have been fixed, even if they lose the presidency, they are setting themselves up with a strong chance of a majority in June and thus forming the next government. A not inconsiderable consolation prize.