It is looking increasingly likely, that Francois Fillon who until recently was considered the favorite for the French presidential election in the April/May presidential election, may drop out leaving the frontrunner challenger spot to Marine Le Pen in limbo.
Shortly after news broke that the presidential candidate may have paid out as much as 1 million euros to his wife and children - more than initially alleged - in an ever growing graft scandal, French police searched Francois Fillon's office in parliament as an inquiry into alleged fake work by his wife threatened his campaign and party leaders began to consider a 'Plan B' without him. Fillon had been favorite to win the presidency for the conservative Republicans party until a week ago, when it was reported that his wife Penelope had drawn hundreds of thousands of euros in pay from state funds without doing any work.
Fillon on Tuesday declared that he was a victim of a ‘professional’ plot aimed at derailing his bid to become France’s next president. He only failed to mention Vladimir Putin and the farce would have been complete.
“To my knowledge, in the history of the Fifth Republic, this situation has never occurred” he during a conference in Paris. “Never with less than three months to go before a presidential election has an operation of such magnitude and this professional been staged with the aim of getting rid of a candidate.”
According to Reuters citing the latest opinion poll conducted on Tuesday, 76% of voters were not convinced of his professed innocence. With the inquiry gathering pace, party officials began to wonder whether, and how, they might replace him.
"The way things are going, I think we might have to quickly trigger a plan B," one lawmaker on condition of anonymity told Reuters.
"Plan B. Lots of people are thinking, reflecting and working on it but no one will speak openly about it," said another influential Republicans member of parliament.
Allegations of pay for fake work, published in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, have cast a doubt on the squeaky-clean image that helped Fillon win his party's primary election over rivals who had faced legal issues in the past. In an amusing tangent, Reuters writes that "the inquiry into whether the hundreds of thousands of euros his wife received in salary was a misuse of taxpayer's money also highlights a key plank of his campaign - that the state spends too much and half a million public sector jobs should go." Almost as if a politician was... hypocritical.
"This will sicken people who are on the minimum wage or not much more," the second lawmaker said. The biggest fear in the party, he said, was that Fillon would be damaged enough to lose the election, but not enough to pull out.
What Reuters failed to add is that those "sickened" by Fillon's conduct may just end up voting for Le Pen, whose election would most likely be the final nail in the Eurozone's coffin.
Meanwhile, even though Fillon has said he would step down as presidential candidate should he be put under formal investigation, it is unclear how The Republicans would find a replacement for him. He was chosen last November in the party's first ever primary contest, so there is no precedent to look to if he quits with less than three months to go until the election. The scandal has coincided with the Socialist Party's choice last weekend of a hard-left figure, Benoit Hamon, as its presidential candidate - a move also seen as helping Macron.
A group of right-leaning Socialist lawmakers wrote in Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday that they could not back Hamon, the clearest sign yet that his appointment could tear the party apart, with some tempted to join the Macron camp.
Ironically, even Marine Le Pen is currently facing her own battle with authorities over use of public funds. From midnight, the National Front (FN) leader faces a pay cut of some 7,000 euros a month as punishment from the EU parliament for using money earmarked for a parliamentary assistant to pay one of her own party officials.