And Now François Fillon Looks Like France’s Next President
The primary of the conservative French Republican Party was always seen as a two-horse race: former President Nicolas Sarkozy facing off against former Prime Minister Alain Juppé. Former Prime Minister François Fillon languished back near the pack of “other” candidates.
But Fillon took off like a rocket in the last two weeks of the campaign, almost winning the first round outright and crushing Juppé in the runoff round. No one saw this coming.
How did the pollsters get it wrong yet again?
For one thing, a lot of voters made up their mind at the last minute.
When they looked at Sarkozy they remembered him as “President Bling Bling.” He liked to show off his love of the finer things if life while in office – during the deepest recession in decades. Oops.
In Juppé, voters saw someone who had once been convicted of abuse of public funds, a felony in France. Not something you really want on your résumé. Plus he was running as a centrist, and primary voters don’t like centrists.
That left Fillon. He is dignified in the way the French like their presidents. And he is traditionally conservative. Plus he spiced up his platform by edging closer to the positions of the populist National Front party.
But the biggest reason the pollsters got it wrong is because they didn’t know whom to poll.
This was the first primary the Republicans have ever held. And it was an open primary, so any French citizen could vote, regardless of party. Prior to this year, Republican candidates have always been chosen in the proverbial smoke-filled room (this being France, they were probably Gitane cigarettes.)
Even the Socialist Party held its first primary just five years ago, in the last presidential election.
So the idea of party primaries, well established in the US, is still very new to France. And if you don’t know who is going to vote, it’s hard to poll them.
Now Fillon is considered the front-runner for the presidential election to be held next spring. Like many French elections, this will have two rounds. If no candidate gets a majority in the first round (not expected with nearly a dozen candidates) then the top two will square off in a second round.
Fillon is expected to face Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist (and extreme right) National Front. Socialist voters hate her. They are expected to hold their noses and vote for Fillon in a second round, putting him over the top.
But maybe not.
Fillon has campaigned with an usually detailed platform, calling for large cuts in the French bureaucracy and the end of the infamous 35-hour work week.
But all those bureaucrats he plans to lay off tend to be Socialists. As are the union members who are rather fond of those 35 hours.
So while today Fillon looks like he is blasting into orbit, remember one thing:
What goes up must come down.
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