Thatcher fan wins big
> Conservative Fillon likely to face Le Pen in French presidential election
PARIS: Hardline reformist Francois Fillon scored a resounding win in France’s conservative primaries on Sunday, making him favourite to win a presidential election five months from now against the popular far-right and a deeply divided left.
Fillon, a former prime minister who wants to raise the retirement age, cut back social security and scrap the 35-hour working week, would easily beat National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff second round, a flash opinion poll said right after his primaries victory.
But to do that, the 62-year-old admirer of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher now faces the challenge of bringing voters behind a programme that promises radical change.
“I must now convince the whole country our project is the only one that can lift us up, for jobs, growth and to fight those fanatics that declared war on us,” a visibly moved Fillon said at his campaign headquarters.
“I will take up an unusual challenge for France: tell the truth and completely change its software,” said Fillon, a racing car enthusiast who lives in a Loire valley chateau.
With votes from nearly all of 10,229 polling stations counted, Fillon had won 66.5% of the votes in the primaries organised by the centre-right Les Republicains party.
Next year’s presidentials in the eurozone’s second-largest economy are shaping up to be another test of the strength of anti-establishment parties in Western countries, with French voters angry with stubbornly high unemployment and fearful after a wave of militant attacks.
In a country that saw months of street protests earlier this year against labour reforms that are much milder than those Fillon proposes, his far-reaching plans give both the ruling Socialists and FN some hope that they can make a comeback.
Up until a couple of weeks ago they expected the centre-right candidate to be Alain Juppe, a more moderate proposition who had been a favourite in polls for months.
“For us, he’s a great candidate (to face in the election),” the FN’s Florian Philippot said.
“His project is so sharply different from ours.”
Under the leadership of Le Pen, who took over from her father Jean-Marie in 2011, the FN has switched from an economically liberal, pro-small business party to one that promises to lower the retirement age and guarantee France’s generous welfare safety net.
Fillon plans to slash public spending by 100 billion over five years, scrap a tax on the wealthy and push the retirement age to 65 as well as increase VAT sales tax. – Reuters
Fillon gestures as he delivers a speech following the first results of the primary’s second round on Sunday at his campaign headquarters in Paris.