France: Fillon beats rival Juppé tapping into ‘rightwing mood’
The former French prime minister Francois Fillon won France’s center-right primary by a landslide, beating Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé.
Published: November 28, 2016, 6:11 am
Just two weeks ago polls had shown Juppé, a centrist with bipartisan appeal, with a comfortable lead.
After tapping into a “rightwing mood”, Fillon is the leading mainstream candidate to take on National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election next year.
While campaigning, Fillon told voters: “France is more rightwing than it has ever been,” and that he was the only one able to tap into that mood and win France’s “ideological battle”.
But in the runoff of the Républicains’ primary late Sunday, Fillon garnered 66.5 percent of votes according to counts from almost all polling stations, while Juppé trailed with 33.2 percent.
Despite his unpopular plan to slash public sector jobs, reduce the welfare state, cut taxes for the rich and loosen business regulations, Fillon is no Margaret Thatcher.
He does not intend to privatise state companies or curb France’s traditionally high public spending.
Fillon served as prime minister from 2007-2012 under the unpopular president Nicolas Sarkozy. Fillon promised economic reform then, but failed to deliver.
France’s mainstream parties have had to rethink their approach to Le Pen, an anti-immigrant euroskeptic who polls show would easily reach the second-round runoff of the presidential election in May.
The vice president of the National Front, Florian Philippot, said on Sunday, Fillon offered the same austerity recipe that the European Commission had imposed upon Greece.
“It is terrible for the middle class, for poor pensioners, and for the working class, and it yields no economic result,” Philippot told French state television.
The people who voted in Sunday’s primary only represent a small part of the French electorate — around 4 million out of a population of around 66 million.
The deeply unpopular governing French Socialist party, will choose its presidential candidate during a primary race in January.
Francois Hollande is the least popular French president since the second world war, with his satisfaction rating in one recent poll as low as 4 percent, according to the French daily Le Monde.
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