Voters are deserting, rebel tells Fillon
February 15, 2017 | 7:44 PM
by Reuters
The car of Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, is surrounded by journalists as he leaves after talks with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, France, on February 15, 2017. Photo - Reuters

Paris: Scandal-hit French presidential candidate Francois Fillon came under renewed attack from within his own conservative camp on Wednesday as he sought to hold his campaign together through talks with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Rebel conservative lawmaker Georges Fenech said voters were deserting their party, The Republicans, and it faced defeat in the April-May election unless it ditched Fillon.

Fenech has been one of the strongest anti-Fillon voices since the former prime minister's campaign was knocked off track by a scandal over his use of public funds to employ his wife as a parliamentary assistant.

With 10 weeks to go until the election, his place as favourite has been taken by centrist Emmanuel Macron, while far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground.

"I'd love to be wrong but I can't believe any more because I can see on the ground the reaction of the voters. They don't want to vote for us any more," Fenech told Radio Classique.

He was speaking a day after leading a failed bid to force a meeting of the party's executive that could have challenged Fillon's decision to continue his presidential bid.

Fenech referred to a meeting this week between Fillon and his camp as one of "mutual congratulation" in which "nobody wants to tell him the truth - or very few people".

"With that as a starting point, we are going to the wall," he said. "There are other people in our party who are respectable, young and have the capacity to run the country."

Fillon had been favourite to win the presidency until allegations in a newspaper three weeks ago that his wife did very little work for the hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers' money that she received as his aide.

He says it was a real job, and denies doing anything wrong. An official inquiry has been launched.

Fillon on Wednesday held a lunch meeting with Sarkozy, a key figure in the party who commands the loyalty of a faction on its right, and whom he beat to the presidential ticket in a primary election in November.

Fillon was due back on the campaign trail on Wednesday evening with a rally planned north of Paris.

Daily opinion polls show Le Pen winning the April 23 first round vote and Macron just ahead of Fillon for the second-place prize of facing her in a May 7 run-off.

Either of the two men are seen winning that runoff, with around 6 out of 10 votes, but with Macron enjoying a bigger margin of victory.

Uncertainty about the election outcome, in particular concern about a win for the anti-euro, anti-EU Le Pen, has been affecting European debt markets, even though in a Reuters poll of 42 economists published on Wednesday, 90 per cent said they believed a win for her was unlikely.

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news