November 28, 2016
And now what Monsieur Fillion?
Francois Fillon is running for the French presidency as the Republican candidate. Last night he received undeniably strong backing of 66.5% of the votes, leaving Alain Juppé with 33.5%. With a high participation of around 4.5m, Fillon proved that he can mobilise voters and that his surge was not only about eliminating Nicolas Sarkozy.
After this fulminating victory last week that no one had seen coming (though, with hindsight, his campaign manager was Patrick Stefanini who managed a similar feat getting Jacques Chirac elected in 1995 against all odds), all eyes are now on what he will do next with the party (selecting a leader), his former adversaries (his message for now is that he needs everyone), his negotiations with the centre (will Francois Bayrou run?), and on what his chances will be against Marine Le Pen next year (the latest poll suggest he would lead in the first round and win the second against Le Pen). But a lot can happen until April next year.
The most imminent question is what impact Fillon’s victory has for the left, given that their primaries are on January 22 and 29. Yes, Fillon’s strong liberal economic programme and conservative social values might mobilise the left. But this does not change the fact that the left is divided and at risk of imploding. François Hollande might decide to run, and Manuel Valls might run too. Valls crossed the red line, and is now talking publicly about running himself in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche. Could the president and his prime minister both be candidates in the same primaries, the leading Socialist politician Claude Bartolone wonders? This would be a first, and would not look good for party unity. A further problem for Hollande is Sylvia Pinel, leader of the moderate and social-liberal Radical Party of the Left, who announced her candidacy bypassing the Socialist primaries. Jean-Luc Mélenchon also wants to run outside the Socialist primaries, even if Daniel Cohn-Bendit thinks he could actually win them. And there is of course Emmanuel Macron. The centre looks crowded, the left divided.
The primaries will help Fillon financially, according to LeLab. Voters had to pay €2 for voting. With 4.3m voters in the first round and at least as many in the second round, the party received €17.2m, minus costs and other repayments which mean that between €6m-€8m will be available for Fillon’s presidential bid. The irony is that the left supporters helped to finance this through their decision to participate in this primary: about 15% of the electorate were left supporters according to BFMTV, which means €2.6m alone from the left. Will the socialist primaries in January be a financial success like this? We doubt it.