Despite another attempted attack at the Paris Louvre Museum and an EU summit in Malta to end illegal migration from Africa, the presidential debate in France has shifted from the questions of Islamic terrorism and immigration to ethics and corruption.
Far right front runner, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, on Sunday tried to refocus attention on the party’s pet themes at a large rally in the southern French city of Lyon but to little avail. French citizens remain outraged at charges of fictitious employment of the wife and children of Conservative Les Républicains candidate and former Prime Minister, François Fillon. Magistrates are investigating the suspected fake employment of the candidate’s wife, Penelope Fillon, as his parliamentary assistant which allegedly cost the French tax payers more than €900,000 euros over a ten year period. François Fillon also employed his two children as aids.
Many in Fillon’s party are calling for him to step down from the race now that polls show he has slid from first place to third which would eliminate him from the second round of voting in presidential elections in May.
The scandal erupted in mid-January when the satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchainé, affirmed Penelope Fillon, was paid as her husband’s assistant from 1998 to 2002 and then as the assistant of his parliamentary replacement and close friend, Marc Jolard, until 2007 and again for her husband in 2012 and 2013. The Canard also says Penelope was paid €100,000 over two years by a literary review owned by a billionaire family friend but did little work to show for it.
The Canard alleges that Fillion’s daughter Marie and son Charles were paid €84,OOO as assistants when Fillion was a senator from 2005 to 2007.
Try as she may to hammer the themes of security, national preference and sovereignty from EU “dictates”, Le Pen was unable to turn attention away from the corruption scandal. Polls indicate that she will face the maverick former Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron, 39, in the second round of voting. Macron, a former banker, who also held a giant rally in Lyon over the week end, is running as an independent centrist.
Polls show Le Pen getting more than 25% of the vote in the first round with Macron coming in second with 22%. Fillon has fallen to 18% while the socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon is a poor fourth at only 16% of the vote. The far left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has slid to 10% of voter intention. In the second round, Macron would be elected president with 66% of the vote.
This could all change if Fillon steps down and Les Républicains select a new candidate but Fillon says he has no intention of abandoning the race and denies allegations of corruption.