17 February 2017

François Fillon sinks in polls after ‘Penelopegate’ scandal

French presidential candidate François Fillon is fighting for his political future as polls show he is likely to be eliminated in the first-round vote by former economy minister Emmanuel Macron.

Fillon, a one-time prime minister who is representing the centre-right, was favourite to become France’s next leader but has seen his chances sink after a scandal over alleged fake jobs for members of his family.

Police continued to investigate allegations that Fillon’s Welsh-born wife, Penelope, and two of his five children were paid €900,000 of public money for work they did not do. Fillon has insisted he will continue his campaign and ask supporters to hold firm until the investigation is finished.

On Friday, Fillon accused “shadowy” forces of seeking to crush him, in what has become known as Penelopegate. “I will hold firm, faced with those in the shadows who are trying to attack me,” he said in a video message to supporters. However, he admitted: “I understand that the accusations are troubling to certain among you because they are pounding … and because of the sums involved.”

The latest polls suggested that support for Fillon ha d plummeted in the wake of the allegations.

Pollsters Ifop and BVA both suggest Fillon could be knocked out of the first-round presidential vote in April, with between 18.5% and 20% of support, compared with 25% for the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen and 20%-22% for Macron. Benoît Hamon, a surprise choice for the Socialist party candidate, polled 16.5%, and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 10%. The polls have Macron winning the second round, with a bout 63% against Le Pen’s 37%.

Earlier last week, another poll suggested Le Pen could win the first round with as much as 27%, with Macron in second place with 23%, but that Macron would still win the second round.

Fillon, standing on a conservative and Catholic programme, has faced pressure even from within his own Les Républicains party since the Penelopegate allegations were first revealed in the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné, and later by the France2 investigations programme, Envoyé Spécial.