Robert Harneis – TDO – Republican candidate François Fillon is in serious trouble over a scandal involving payments to his wife, which it is alleged she did nothing to earn. Fillon has rightly pointed out that the revelations, that date back to the nineties and early 2000s, are part of the dirty tricks you can expect 90 days before the election.
The French justice system is investigating the affair but everybody knows that they are doing the bidding of the President of the Republic and his entourage. Ever since François Hollande has been President there has been a series of carefully timed and coordinated judicial attacks on former President Sarkozy, who was thought to be the most dangerous opposition candidate. Every time he took an initiative up would pop some judge with an embarrassing search warrant or a demand to interrogate him for this or that affair and there were plenty of them.
Fillon is now the man to beat so he gets his share of judicial rotten tomatoes. However, for Fillon there are two special problems. First, he has a reputation for honesty second to none in French politics and he has traded on it to become the favorite to win the elections. He has even emphasized his wife’s role outside the political hurly burly. The accusations are thus particularly damaging. Worse they would seem to be true, if not necessarily illegal. He did use his wife to get parliamentary allowances that were intended to pay for parliamentary assistance, which it is doubtful she provided. On top of that a friendly newspaper editor has paid her money for doing very little. Even if the charges are proven, it is not going to send him to jail. It is just very embarrassing and can only help his opponents. His opinion poll ratings were already falling because of his strongly neo liberal policies, which voters rightly think may be painful in the short term at least.
All of this - as intended - puts the Republican Party in a bind. This has emerged just before Fillon's big Paris election rally. They have chosen him and they are stuck with him and there is in reality no better candidate. They will not have been comforted by support from Jean-Marie Le Pen, long time President of the National Front, who says that it is all wicked electioneering and most unfair on Fillon. Why this unlikely support from a life-long political opponent? Because exactly the same dirty tricks have been used against the cash strapped National Front in the European Parliament, with rather less justification.
Which of the other candidates will benefit? The significant number of Right wing voters hesitating as to whether to vote with Fillon or not will be encouraged to look elsewhere. If they are center right they will go with the former Socialist economy minister Emmanuel Macron. If they are angry about immigration, the EU and France's reducing role in the world, they will vote for Marine Le Pen. Or, disgusted, they may decide not to vote at all.