There was some excitement in the French presidential elections last night arising from two related stories. First was the announcement that the government would be summoning French Republican Party candidate Françoise Fillon to open formal charges and an investigation into alleged corruption this month. The second breaking news item was that Fillon was calling a hastily arranged news conference where many speculated he might be withdrawing from the race. The first story was true but the second one fell apart when the candidate declared that he would be fighting on despite the ethical clouds surrounding his candidacy. (Reuters)
Conservative Francois Fillon promised on Wednesday to fight “to the end” in France’s presidential election despite a deepening investigation into a financial scandal, but his campaign suffered a new blow as a top aide resigned.
The former prime minister revealed that investigating magistrates had summoned him to appear before them on March 15 to be placed under formal investigation over allegations that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money to do very little work.
In a defiant speech at his party headquarters, he repeated his denials of wrongdoing, complained of judicial and media bias amounting to a “political assassination”, and appealed directly for the support of the French people.
The defense being mounted by Fillon in the court of public opinion began to take on tones reminiscent of Donna Brazile defending herself against charges of rigging the Democratic primary. As Time Magazine reported, the candidate insisted that this was all some simple misunderstanding which was being twisted into a political attack by his enemies.
“I will not withdraw,” the Republicains candidate told reporters during a Wednesday press conference at his campaign headquarters. He repeated his denial of wrongdoing amid allegations his wife Penelope was paid for work she did not do as his assistant, calling it a “political assassination.”
Fillon says that “the people” will judge him at the ballot box and “France is bigger than my errors.” The announcement comes after Fillon abruptly postponed an important campaign event at Salon d’Agriculture, a Paris farm fair— fuelling speculation that he would be dropping out of the race.
Before getting to the effect this may have on the state of the race it’s worth dropping a quick note to Françoise Fillon on the subject of his hiring policies. Dude… C’mon man. You hired your own wife at a massive salary for a “job” where pretty much nobody ever saw her do anything, assuming she showed up at all. We have situations like that of the United States too, but they usually show up in movies about people name Soprano. They’re known as “no-show jobs” and law enforcement takes a dim view of them. It’s hard enough to get away with that even in the private sector, say nothing of when you’re running for president.
When one of the people who was previously considered at least in the top three in national polling (if not the front runner) takes this sort of a hit we’re left to wonder what impact it will have on the rest of the race. Does this in any way benefit the candidacy of Marine Le Pen? As recently as a couple of months ago I would’ve said probably not. Fillon had already fallen into third place and it would be easy to assume that much of his support would more naturally coalesce around independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. That still may be the case but the way the dice are currently rolling both in Europe and the United States nothing can be taken for granted. If fears of terrorism continue to rise and stories of corruption among establishment candidates keep peppering the voters (Fillon is a former Prime Minister), who knows what might happen? Stranger things have taken place as we saw here last autumn.
But if nothing else, we might be able to take some comfort from this story back home in America. Obviously corruption among elected officials is not unique to the United States.