Macron gets poll boost in French election as Fillon crisis deepens

Opinion poll puts centrist candidate ahead of Marine Le Pen in first round of presidential race

French presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron, pictured on Friday ahead of a meeting in Paris with  former US secretary of state John Kerry. A poll has placed Mr Macron in first place in the first round of the election next month. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/AFP/Getty Images

French presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron, pictured on Friday ahead of a meeting in Paris with former US secretary of state John Kerry. A poll has placed Mr Macron in first place in the first round of the election next month. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/AFP/Getty Images

 

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron cemented his status as favourite to win the French presidency on Friday as his conservative rival, Francois Fillon, came under renewed pressure to pull out because of a deepening financial scandal.

For the first time since the line-up of candidates became clear, a poll showed Mr Macron finishing ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the opening round. It came a day after he promised a blend of fiscal discipline and stimulus to strengthen a feeble economic recovery.

As the former investment banker’s campaign gained momentum, Mr Fillon’s camp was mired in a crisis of confidence after a string of resignations among his close advisers and backers.

The same poll showed that if Mr Fillon were to step down and be replaced by another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, it would be Mr Juppe winning the first round, with Ms Le Pen eliminated.

A source in Mr Juppe’s entourage said the 71-year-old – who lost to Mr Fillon in the November primaries – was “ready to take part in the search for a solution”.

Mr Juppe, himself convicted in 2004 for misuse of public funds, has until now ruled out a comeback. “No is no,” he tweeted last month.

The euro climbed to a two-week high and the spread between French and German 10-year government bond yields fell to its lowest in a month on Friday after the Odoxa poll showed Mr Macron pulling ahead of Ms Le Pen, suggesting investors now saw a far-right victory as less likely.

“We saw a peak of panic in February when the focus was on Le Pen,” said DZ Bank strategist Christian Lenk. “It’s always been clear that the odds of Le Pen becoming the next president were quite low and now we see confirmation of that in the polls.”

Mr Macron (39) was economy minister in President Francois Hollande’s socialist government from 2014 to 2016 but has never run for elected office.

He was propelled to the front of the race in part by the scandal engulfing Mr Fillon and on Thursday unveiled a detailed manifesto that included plans to revamp the pension system.

Intense manoeuvring

Mr Fillon, who turns 63 on Saturday, this week promised to fight “to the end” despite the scandal over his wife’s pay that he learned this week could see him placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds later this month.

He has complained of judicial and media bias that amounted to a “political assassination”. Several former supporters have since deserted him, saying they cannot support him given those attacks on the judiciary.

On Friday his chief spokesman, Thierry Solere, joined their ranks along with another senior Republican, Dominique Bussereau. Solere did not say why he was quitting.

In a further blow, centre-right party UDI also withdrew its support.

Amid intense behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, two senior conservative politicians, Senate president Gerard Larcher and Les Republicains secretary-general Bernard Accoyer, held talks on Friday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy to review the situation, a source close to Mr Accoyer told Reuters.

Some lawmakers said Mr Larcher was among conservative politicians who earlier this week urged Mr Fillon to step down in Mr Juppe’s favour, but Sarkozy loyalists balked at the idea.

The Odoxa poll put Mr Macron on 27 per cent in the first round on April 23rd with Ms Le Pen behind him on 25.5 percent and Mr Fillon on 19 per cent. Ms Le Pen has consistently led first-round polls this year.

In a scenario where Mr Juppe stood in Mr Fillon’s place, Odoxa put Mr Juppe in front on 26.5 per cent, with Mr Macron on 25 per cent and Ms Le Pen out of the contest on 24 percent.

Daily voter surveys have consistently shown any candidate defeating Ms Le Pen, who promises to pull France out of the euro and hold a referendum on European Union membership, in a May 7th runoff.

A separate poll by Opinionway maintained Ms Le Pen’s first round lead. There are no recent polls pitting Mr Macron against Mr Juppe in the second round.

Late on Friday, Mr Fillon took to his Twitter feed to urge supporters to attend a rally he will speak at in Paris on Sunday. “Don’t let anybody steal this choice from you, I ask you to resist,” he said.

Reuters