Paris mayor asks Fillon to cancel rally as presidential hopeful’s woes grow
paris — French presidential candidate François Fillon, fighting for political survival, called on supporters Saturday not to “abdicate” to those trying to destroy him as the Socialist mayor of Paris asked Fillon to cancel a scheduled rally that would be a test of his staying power.
In a speech Saturday, the conservative Fillon, whose campaign has been unraveling over impending corruption charges, vowed to remake France. The speech came a day before what amounts to his last stand.
He will hold a rally Sunday near the Eiffel Tower, an event widely seen as a way to measure support via the numbers he can muster. In a video tweeted Friday, Fillon called on his supporters to show up.
Fillon, once the leader in polls, is increasingly alone as backers defect. Two campaign heavyweights, campaign director Patrick Stefanini and campaign spokesman Thierry Solère, deserted the Fillon team Friday — although the director promised to stay on until the end of the rally.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted that the event “endangers” French values, claiming its real goal is to demonstrate against investigative judges, police and journalists “bringing to light the truth.”
“Our ties to liberty force us to denounce this rally as a grave act of moral and political failure, contrary to our values,” Hidalgo’s tweet said, noting that the event was being held at the Esplanade of Human Rights.
She was not the first to denounce the rally, with which a group linked to an ultraconservative political movement, Common Sense, has “associated” itself.
Financial prosecutors are investigating allegations that Fillon gave his wife and two of their children taxpayer-funded jobs as his parliamentary aides, jobs whose functions they allegedly never performed. Fillon initially said that he would step down if charged but decided to maintain his candidacy even though he has been summoned to face charges March 15.
His family members were paid more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) over a number of years for work as his parliamentary aides. It is legal in France to hire relatives for public jobs, if they actually work. Fillon has proclaimed his innocence, insisting his wife and children worked for their pay.
Fillon is not the only candidate in the sights of judicial investigators.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is at the center of several judicial inquiries along with her anti-immigration National Front party, but unlike Fillon, she has refused a summons to appear before investigative judges Friday in a case concerning her aides in the European Parliament.
And unlike Fillon, Le Pen has not suffered in polls. She and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron hold first and second place in recent surveys.
In his speech on Saturday, Fillon called liberty the guiding force of his platform, meant to unlock new energy, risk-taking and a new mind-set for the French, reducing the role of the state and making success a value.
Fillon wants to slash 500,000 civil-service jobs, reduce by a total of 50 billion euros taxes and charges for small businesses, shops and farmers, “significantly” reduce taxes for companies and end the 35-hour workweek, along with other measures.
“In the first three months, we’ ll have created a positive shock and launched the powerful dynamic favoring employment,” he said.
Fillon’s party, the Republicans, meanwhile, said it was holding a meeting of its political committee on Monday evening to evaluate the situation after Sunday’s rally. With the two-round presidential election set for April 23 and May 7, time is of the essence for Fillon and his party, which would need to find a new candidate should Fillon decide, or be forced, to step down.