French Presidential Candidate Fights On Despite Fraud Allegations

Mar 6, 2017
Originally published on March 6, 2017 12:36 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Just two months before the French go to the polls to elect a president, the country's mainstream conservative party is in disarray. Its candidate, Francois Fillon, once looked like he was a sure bet to become the next French president. But allegations of a fake job scheme involving his wife have damaged his candidacy and plunged the entire election into uncertainty. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has the latest.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In a desperate last attempt to hold on to his candidacy, Francois Fillon called for supporters to turn out in central Paris Sunday and rally behind him. Waving flags and braving the rain, they did. An estimated 50,000 hard-core supporters, including 32-year-old Romain Codron gathered in the Trocadero Plaza to applaud their candidate's vision for France.

ROMAIN CODRON: And what I wanted when I voted for Fillon is something for France, and I still want it now. And I want it for my kids.

BEARDSLEY: Codron says he fears his vote will be stolen if Fillon is replaced. He says the fake job charges are worrying, but he says Fillon is not the only politician who's hired a family member, and it's the system that's at fault. Fillon says he's done nothing illegal, and his wife did work for her salary, though he apologized for what he said was a moral mistake. But his party is now divided and hemorrhaging voters, many who are now turning to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and total political newcomer Emmanuel Macron. Macron served briefly as President Francois Hollande's economy minister and is running as an independent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCOIS FILLON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Fillon appeared on the nightly news after his rally. The announcer asked him if the chaos surrounding him was not helping Marine Le Pen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FILLON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "No," he said, "my program is the only one that can stop French people from voting for her." For mainstream conservatives who had hoped that moderate, experienced statesmen and mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe would step in and save the day, their hopes were dashed this morning. In a hastily called news conference, Juppe said he would not run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALAIN JUPPE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Juppe said, with the mainstream left limping along after Hollande's disastrous presidency and the mainstream right damaged from scandal, French voters were left to choose between the disastrous program of the far right and an immature politician with a weak program. France is sick and needs renewal, he said, but I am no longer the man for the job. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF HENRY MANCINI AND HIS ORCHESTRA'S "CORTINA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.