Fillon, who became a presidential favorite last Sunday after unexpectedly winning the first round of a center-right primary, came under fierce attack this week as his rival Alain Juppé’s camp and other opponents tried to knock him off his perch.
Laurent Joffrin, of the left-leaning Libération, accused Fillon of forging an alliance with the “loonies” of France’s anti-gay marriage movement, while Pierre Bergé, co-owner of Le Monde, said Fillon’s backers were of the same ilk as those who supported France’s collaborationist Vichy government during World War II.
“I was practically called Maréchal Pétain by Pierre Bergé,” Fillon told RTL radio early Friday, referring to the wartime leader who cooperated with Nazi occupiers. “What we have here is a hissy fit by a tiny microcosm of people who think they know everything.”
“These people need to understand that because of their arrogance and their self-satisfaction, they are making themselves into electoral agents for [National Front president] Marine Le Pen,” said Fillon.
If Fillon wins Sunday’s runoff against Juppé, there is a strong chance he could go on to face Le Pen in the final round of a presidential election next year.
In a TV debate before the election’s final round, Alain Juppé tried to halt Fillon’s momentum via a series of calibrated attacks. He criticized the frontrunner’s economic plans as “unrealistic,” pressed him to clarify his stance on abortion — Fillon had previously said he was “philosophically” opposed to the idea — and mockingly called him the candidate “chosen by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”
“With François Fillon, you’re never totally clear about what he intends to do,” Juppé said on BFMTV early Friday, adding that his rival was being buoyed by the support of the “extreme right.”
But the offensive from Juppé’s camp, which has continued online all week, does not appear to be denting Fillon’s advance. An Ifop survey published Wednesday showed the 62-year-old Fillon winning the nomination Sunday by a comfortable 65 percent, with overwhelming support from right-wing former backers of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was knocked out of the race last Sunday and under whom Fillon served as prime minister.
What’s more, it looks as though Fillon came out on top in Thursday night’s TV debate. A snap poll of viewers by Elabe showed that 57 percent had found Fillon more convincing, with about two thirds saying he was the candidate who most wanted to “change things” and had the best chance of being elected president in 2017.
Those questioned were of all political persuasions.
In last Sunday’s first round, huge numbers of left-wing voters and far-right activists turned out to influence the outcome. Most were motivated by the prospect of knocking former president Sarkozy out of the race. With that mission accomplished, it’s unclear whether left-wingers will turn out again to vote in a primary that is not meant for them.
Both candidates have busy schedules before Sunday’s vote. Juppé was on Friday heading to Nantes in western France, an area full of middle-ground and leftist voters who could be tempted to support his moderate conservative agenda. Fillon was headed to the deeply Catholic and traditional Paris suburb of Versailles — a hint that he is doubling down on his strategy of courting the hard-right.
Author: NICHOLAS VINOCUR