European Anxieties
France’s Anti-Establishment Election

Looks like politics in 2017 will if nothing else continue to be as unpredictable as last year. In France, where elections are looming in May, until recently it was more or less taken for granted that the final run-off would be between Front National’s Marine Le Pen and Les Republicains’ Francois Fillon. Polls had Fillon—an economic liberal, a social conservative, and an advocate for softening Europe’s stance on Russia—winning handily in the run-off against Le Pen. That was true until scandal broke. Reuters:

Le Canard enchaine weekly said Fillon’s wife had been paid roughly 600,000 euros ($640,000) for employment by him and for subsequent work for his successor in parliament and later as a literary reviewer for a cultural journal. Fillon did not deny that figure.

The Canard enchaine said there was little sign Penelope Fillon had done any work in any of the jobs. Fillon brushed this aside, saying she had been working for him ever since he entered politics more than 30 years ago.

“Without the work my wife carried out I would not be where I am now,” he said.

He said he would abandon his presidential campaign if he was placed under formal investigation.

And even without the official investigation, a good amount of damage seems to have been done. A new poll shows that Fillon is viewed favorably by only 38 percent of his countrymen since the scandal broke, a drop of 16 percent. 61 percent have a negative opinion of him.

Meanwhile the young, charismatic Emmanuel Macron has been running what by all accounts is an unprecedented campaign for France as an independent. He has surged to a solid third place since announcing his optimistic, pro-EU campaign, and while his candidacy is still considered a long shot, he appears to have the wind at his back. The Socialists are in disarray after the more centrist Manuel Valls faced a stiff challenge from the left of his party, in the guise of Benoit Hamon. A run-off vote between Valls and Hamon is scheduled for Sunday, and if Valls loses, he is indicating he might throw his weight behind Macron. Reuters again:

His comment follows talk that some of Valls backers in parliament are preparing to throw their weight behind Macron, a centrist whose pro-business policies are close to those of Valls, if the more traditionalist Hamon wins.

“I will take a back seat,” Valls said when asked what he would do if he loses on Sunday.

“I am at the heart of the progressive movement – from Hamon to Macron, because we have to bring it together,” he added.

What’s not clear is where Fillon’s voters will go if he keeps sinking. A sort of tradition has sprung up over the years in France of unifying to thwart Marine Le Pen in the runoff vote. Maybe this time, with anti-establishment forces clearly fired up across the spectrum, really is different.

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