Last week reports emerged that the centre-right UDI party will no longer campaign for Francois Fillon in France’s presidential election after he was placed under formal investigation. The presidential candidate has called a probe targeting him and his wife “political assassination” and has reused to quit the race.
While the UDI, which has about 30 MPs in the French parliament’s lower house, announced its support for Mr Fillon back in November, on 1 March it announced that iw as now “suspending” its backing. The party leadership is due to meet next week in order to discuss whether it will permanently withdraw all support for Mr Fillon. The party’s youth wing is already supporting his rival Emmanuel Macron.
The Republican candidate has been summoned by judges investigating allegations that he gave his wife a taxpayer-funded “fake job.” He has disclosed that he is due to meet with them on 15 March. On Friday it was announced that his spokesman has resigned. Thiery Solere’s resignation adds to a slew of notable departures, which include the campaign treasurer who resigned on 2 March. Two deputy directors and Mr Fillon’s foreign affairs spokesman are amongst others that have resigned, with more than sixty politicians stating that they can no longer support him.
Meanwhile on 2 March, Mr Fillon’s Paris home was raided by investigators as part of the inquiry into the payments to his Welsh-born wife, Penelope. The Le Canard Enchaine newspaper alleges that she was paid US $900,000 over several years for working as a parliamentary assistant for Mr Fillon and his successor, however she had no parliamentary pass, which raised questions over whether she did the work that she was paid for.
Mr Fillon’s ongoing woes have raised speculation that ex-PM Alain Juppe could return to the race, if Mr Fillon were to pull out. Mr Juppe was overwhelmingly defeated by Mr Fillon in the Republicans’ primary in November, securing only 33% of the vote to Mr Fillon’s 66%. Sources close to Mr Juppe have disclosed that he would be prepared to step in, but only with the unanimous support of the party and only if Mr Fillon were to go voluntarily. Mr Juppe has kept a low profile as the mayor of Bordeaux since his defeat in the primary.
The latest poll suggests that Mr Fillon would be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election voting on 23 April, and that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would challenge independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the two-candidate run-off on 7 May. A number of opinion polls have suggested that Mr Macron would win that contest.
The deadline for candidates to declare that they are running in the presidential election is 17 March, two days after Mr Fillon is due to appear before a judge overseeing the investigation.