It will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the French election that Francois Fillon – the standard bearer of France’s right wing Republicans and until recently the front runner in the French elections – has now been charged over illegal payments to his family.
There is a strong possibility that Fillon has indeed broken the law though he denies it.
However, as I have discussed previously, it is an illegal practice which is apparently rife within the French political establishment and which in Fillon’s case it has apparently long been known he was engaged in. Moreover compared to some recent scandals the sums involved do not look inordinately large.
As I have also said previously, to an outsider like me it is difficult to avoid the impression that the scandal was whipped up against Fillon principally to prevent a known friend of Russian President Putin’s winning the French Presidency and to clear the path for the French establishment’s current ‘golden boy’ Emmanuel Macron.
The fact that the charges were brought against Fillon as he appeared to be putting the scandal behind him and had overtaken Macron in recent opinion polls strengthens that impression. Certainly it is what Fillon himself appears to think, as he made clear when he called the charges brought against him today a “political murder”.
Fillon insists that he will fight on, and it is not inconceivable that the way this affair has been handled – with the sense of this being a political hit, and with President Hollande now weighing in on the side of the judiciary – will in the end play out in his favour, with conservative French voters rallying to his support. However on balance even an electorate as sophisticated and as cynical as the French will probably in the end balk at voting for a person facing criminal charges.
Whether Macron will be able to capitalise on Fillon’s “murder” is another matter. The impression that all the stops are being pulled out to make him President, the hollowness of his programme, and his absurd claim to be an anti- establishment candidate, could over time work against him, with some already saying that he has peaked too soon. It could also be that some of Fillon’s supporters might balk at supporting him, resenting the way their candidate has been assassinated in order to make way for him. If so then the ultimate beneficiary of this affair could prove to be Marine Le Pen.