Upbeat Fillon heads for finish
Conservative French presidential frontrunner Francois Fillon was holding a final rally in Paris yesterday as he seeks to clinch the nomination for the center-right Republicans in a primary vote this weekend. Fillon, whose surge has taken commentators and pollsters by surprise, gave an assured performance in a televised debate on Thursday night against his centrist rival, longtime favorite Alain Juppe.
Fifty-seven percent of viewers judged Fillon to have been the most convincing, according to an independent poll for the BFMTV television channel of 908 people who followed the nearly two-hour exchange. A total of 8.5 million people tuned in to hear the two ex-prime ministers stress their differences on public sectors cuts, relations between France and Russia, and their views on multiculturalism.
Fillon was to hold a rally in Paris yesterday evening where he hoped to draw up to 10,000 people, while Juppe was campaigning in the city of Nancy in eastern France. Both men are already looking ahead to their rivals in next year’s election that will feature resurgent farright leader Marine Le Pen, as well as a Socialist party candidate and independents. “I think I am best placed with my program to beat Marine Le Pen,” Juppe said on Friday, referring to the nationalist and anti-immigration boss of the National Front.
Thursday night’s debate cast into stark relief the differences between the candidates, with Fillon often portraying 71-year-old Juppe as not ambitious enough and Juppe accusing his rival of being unrealistic. “It is true that my project is more radical and perhaps more difficult,” said Fillon, whose economic ideas have been compared to those of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
The 62-year-old devout Catholic wants to slash an eye-popping 500,000 public sector jobs over five years and scrap the 35-hour working week in a bid to kick-start the sluggish French economy. He is also more socially conservative, believes France is “on the verge of revolt”, and takes a harder line on Islam in France.
Juppe has stressed how many on the farright are in favor of his rival’s proposals. “No, France is not a multicultural country. France has a history, a language and a culture which have naturally been enriched from outside,” Fillon said on Thursday during the debate. — AFP
PARIS: Francois Fillon (left) and Alain Juppe take part in the first televised debate between the two remaining candidates for the rightwing Les Republicains (LR) party primaries on Thursday. —AFP