Category: Michele Antaki

France: As Fillon Switches to Macron, Many of His Voters Break for Le Pen


With the nominal conservative, Francois Fillon defeated, it was the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic instituted by Charles de Gaulle that a large right-wing party was not represented.

But the real bombshell occurred when Fillon announced he would vote for Macron, moments after the results were out. He cited the fight against the extremist course that Le Pen represented as his motivation.

The man who, not so long ago, mockingly called  Macron “Emmanuel Hollande” or “Hollande’s towel holder,” was asking now for his his fans to rally behind him? In doing so, Fillon also revealed his true colors and proved he was, in fact, a globalist, even though his version of globalism was softer than Macron’s and could have represented a real alternative to Le Pen, had the establishment not mounted a defamation campaign against him.

In the “Les Républicains” camp, Alain Juppé (Fillon’s defeated rival at the primary) and François Baroin, his presumptive prime minister, also rallied for Macron. The spokesman for Les Républicains said the political bureau was to meet to adopt a common position but that “not a voice should go to Le Pen.”

It was the first time that the LR party departed from the line of neutrality it had set for itself, by taking sides in the second round.

Fillon’s decision to back Macron, to block the Front National did not sit well with some of his voters for whom Plan B had never been Macron, but Le Pen. First comments revealed that they felt betrayed and unlikely to follow Fillon’s voting instructions.

This was the case for George Fenech, a judge and member of Les Républicains party, who told journalists with irritation that of course he would never vote for Macron or instruct Fillon’s voters to do so. For how could he back a candidate that he had previously fought without losing all credibility? He also believed that such a wholesale transfer of votes to a rival party was a tactical mistake, a political suicide, for it meant for LR would cease to exist as an independent political entity, and would effectively merge into Macron’s En Marche movement.

Fillon’s speed in backing his former competitor was especially shocking given the circumstances of his campaign. Fillon had been investigated for a claim of fake jobs that cost him his lead in the polls. He had counter-attacked and accused Hollande of dirty tricks against him to boost his protégé Emmanuel Macron, even going so far as filing a claim with the Public Prosecutor for the President, a French office, to investigate the president.

In the camp of the old Left, political alliances also began to recompose as soon as the results were announced. Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a solemn appeal to vote for Macron to combat “regressive forces.” The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, followed suit.

As for socialist party leader Benoit Hamon, despite his enmity toward Macron, and the latter’s betrayal of the party, which he left six months before the campaign to run as an independent, he announced he was supporting Macron, who was “a mere political rival” while Marine Le Pen was an “enemy of the Republic.”

Hollande himself made a solemn appearance on the following day to say he was voting for Macron. In a pathetic display of demagoguery, he lashed out at Le Pen who he claimed represented “extremism, narrow parochialism and discrimination against a whole segment of the French citizens, based on their origin and religion.”

All this political effervescence was captured in a humoristic show

In view of the outpouring of support from the traditional left and right for the candidate of La France en Marche, the gap separating him from the candidate of the Front National is likely to widen further.

Macron could conceivably embody “renewal” for voters with his youthful looks that get him likened to “the ideal son-in-law,” provided they are able to filter out his “Rothschild candidate” profile – a reference to the four years he spent at Rothschild & Cie Banque as a managing partner. Rothschild bankers are known as globalists and some believe that in case of a Le Pen victory, they would block all credit to France.

Le Pen does not miss an opportunity to say that Macron stands for “unbridled globalization” and “a world without borders.” When he was Minister of Economy and Industry, he sold Toulouse airport to the Chinese, and Alstom [a French multinational company in the rail transport industry] to General Electric.

Polls indicate that many French are reluctant to embrace globalization with open arms – especially in rural France where Le Pen has widespread support.

In the second round of the election, the key topic of globalization and the EU, “euro-globalization’ as it is called in France, will be brought front and center in the political debate, which explains Le Pen’s declaration that the real debate would then finally begin.

She said she did not fear having Macron, that media creation, as her opponent. She repeatedly said he was the one she dreamed of confronting, for he represents her polar opposite and thus offers her an opportunity to showcase her program in the areas of terrorism, migrants, financial dictatorship, the EU and globalism.

Macron, on the other hand, does not have a defining theme that could mobilize his supporters. He distinguished himself during the campaign by the vacuousness of his speeches. He gave the impression of being a ‘default’ candidate, while Le Pen could count on a base of convinced fans.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, interviewed on the BFM TV channel on election night, described Macron as a smiley but masked man, whose intentions were largely unknown.

In his message to his supporters  that night, Macron positioned himself as the future president “of all patriots facing the threat of nationalists.” By introducing this specious distinction, he was laying claim to patriotism. He had been criticized as unpatriotic a few weeks ago for saying – while on a trip to Algeria – that French colonization had been a crime against humanity. He celebrated his victory  at the Rotonde-Montparnasse with his wife Brigitte, friend and mentor Jacques Attali, and European MP Daniel Cohn-Benditt, all of them inveterate globalists.

Le Pen enjoyed another kind of treat – “anti-fascist demonstrations,” where nine were wounded, including six policemen, and 29 were arrested. They were likely financed by non-government organizations affiliated with the ubiquitous George Soros, who was reported to have invested in Google to step up its “Fake News” campaign designed to depress the vote of anti-globalist Le Pen. Soros has also invested 970,000 euros this year to thwart France’s counter-terrorism efforts, under the guise of defending “human rights.”

Beyond the euphoria of the Lepenistes, the chance for Le Pen to win on May 7 is objectively slimmer than Macron’s, unless the 21.75% of voters who abstained in the first round decide to come out and massively cast their ballots for her. True enough, her anti-globalization stance is shared by 50% of the French population, but a good segment of this potential electorate is ‘sterilized’ as it perceives her as a “racist” and a “xenophobe.” The way forward in the rest of her campaign is, therefore, to focus more on the anti-globalization dimension of her program, and less on the migrant issue, in order to capture as much of that dormant electorate as possible.

Other than that, she might be able to tap into 33% of François Fillon’s electorate, mainly from members of  ‘Sens Commun.’ This is a movement which had opposed same-sex marriage back in 2013 and formed the last bastion of loyalists to Fillon during his judicial woes. There is no way they could identify with Macron’s values and therefore, they are likely to switch to Le Pen or abstain from voting altogether. Moments ago, that movement, also called La Manif pour tous, because it had called people to take to the streets to protest same-sex marriage, asked supporters not to vote for Macron, “the openly anti-family candidate.” Meanwhile, on Royalists’ Facebook pages (yes, France still has royalists), its adherents are also voicing opposition to a Macron vote, such as this one of the Prince of Orleans.

Other sympathizers go so far as to express a preference for Le Pen.

A reader of the conservative magazine Valeurs Actuelles wrote: “We want a fighting party, with a warrior at the head. Not weather-vanes rotating in every direction .”

Another denounced the “patronizing approach” of Fillon’s call to vote for a designated candidate. “The best for him would have been, like Melenchon, to shut up and tell his voters to follow the promptings of their conscience. We are not children to be told what to do.” He added that he would personally vote for Le Pen, and that five years of Hollande were quite enough without having to endure five more years under his “spiritual heir.”

As things stand now, two days after results came out, and depending on whom you pop the question to, only around one-third of former Fillonists are saying they will vote for Le Pen, while one-third will abstain or return a blank ballot. The remaining third will dutifully do as told and rally behind Macron. However, abstentions will ‘mechanically’ boost Le Pen more than Macron, and this prompted Juppé to warn against them in a tweet this week.

Le Pen may also possibly count on the 5% votes obtained by the sovereignist Dupont Aignant – who had been asking Fillon to desist and transfer his votes to him. He announced that he would communicate his voting instructions early next week.

She could perhaps also benefit from a small segment of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s electorate (19.4% of the votes), since he left his voters free to vote for whomever they wanted. He said he was not mandated by his constituents to represent them at the poll. Consequently, he would not ask them to vote for a particular candidate. The leader of La France insoumise remained unbending to the end.

Although Melenchon is a populist like Le Pen, his is a leftwing and socially liberal brand of populism, and he recoils in horror at what he views as her “racism” and “xenophobia.” Consequently, very few Melenchonists could realistically cross the Rubicon into Le Pen’s lap. Furthermore, the spokesperson for Melenchon’s party, called today on voters to refrain from giving a single vote to Le Pen’s Front National. He also told them not to vote for Macron and abstain altogether, focusing on the next legislative race instead. It was not clear whether he was speaking in Melenchon’s name or his own

Le Pen, who was also interviewed today on prime time TV, winked at Melenchon’s electorate when she portrayed Macron as a the “submission” candidate who bowed to everything and everyone – lobbies, banks,  Brussels…etc. She said France under Macron would be a “submissive France,” as opposed to the France Insoumise in Melenchon’s motto, meaning, unbending France.

According to political scientists, the Front National can realistically gain 10% to 15% during the second round. This party has previously shown its ability to gain traction even between the two rounds of an election. Polls are currently predicting 38% for Le Pen, versus 62% for Macron at the end of the second round.

Le Pen has taken leave from her party’s presidency to devote herself to her campaign, and she is traveling all over France to speak to the people.

Last night, another thunderstorm brought the curtain down on Fillon’s political involvement in the foreseeable future. He kissed goodbye his Les Républicains party, announcing to its political bureau that he would not campaign for the legislative elections next June. “I no longer have the legitimacy to lead the fight,” he said. “I will become a militant in spirit among the rest of you.” He said he now intends to rebuild his bruised family.

The knives were out for him in his own clan. Alain Juppé, his crushed rival at the presidential primary, said the defeat of the Right in the first round was partly attributable to Fillon, the other part being his program – too liberal economically but too conservative socially, with its emphasis on the ‘work, patriotism and family’ trinity. Others echoed his denial of Fillon, so subtly that poison would be more appropriate a term than knife.

Almost simultaneously, rearguard maneuvers started, indicating that good old Nicolas Sarkozy could perhaps vie for the party’s leadership. He denied it, claiming all he was interested in was the unity of his political family and to provide ‘the unifying cement” among its members. A meeting organized at the party’s headquarters on the day following the results of the first round pointed to a Right feverishly trying to strategize to win the upcoming legislative elections and avoid political death.

A working breakfast on Wednesday morning, supposedly among members of Les Républicains, but in actual fact with only a subset of 40 Sarkozyistes, was also held to devise a way forward. It emerged from it that François Baroin – formerly slated to become prime minister in a Fillon presidency – would probably become the leader of Les Republicains. This would position him to also be selected as prime minister under a Macron presidency, given that the LR is the largest political formation and that Macron has no MPs of his own, having created his En Marche ‘party’ a mere six months before the presidential campaign. A final statement was issued, urging voters to block Le Pen, but falling short of instructing to vote for Macron because of lack of consensus.

The winners of the presidential first round are, too, already projecting themselves into the legislative elections of June 11 and June 18. Given the recomposition of the political chessboard, neither Macron nor Le Pen would have a majority in the National Assembly if elected president. But if Le Pen is unable to win the presidency, her party is in a position to win many constituencies in Spring 2017. The Front National is now a party that carries substantial political weight. Le Pen is looking, therefore, to turn it into a fixture of the political landscape.

 

 

 

 

The French voted on Sunday to elect their president and their verdict came like a thunderbolt, marking their desire to turn the page on their big traditional parties .

The two candidates to go into a run-off in a fortnight are Emmanuel Macron – the globalist candidate who claims to represent both the right and left, and Marine Le Pen, the nationalist candidate who refuses to be defined by right or left.

With the nominal conservative, Francois Fillon defeated, it was the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic instituted by Charles de Gaulle that a large right-wing party was not represented.

But the real bombshell occurred when Fillon announced he would vote for Macron, moments after the results were out. He cited the fight against the extremist course that Le Pen represented as his motivation.

The man who, not so long ago, mockingly called  Macron “Emmanuel Hollande” or “Hollande’s towel holder,” was asking now for his his fans to rally behind him? In doing so, Fillon also revealed his true colors and proved he was, in fact, a globalist, even though his version of globalism was softer than Macron’s and could have represented a real alternative to Le Pen, had the establishment not mounted a defamation campaign against him.

In the “Les Républicains” camp, Alain Juppé (Fillon’s defeated rival at the primary) and François Baroin, his presumptive prime minister, also rallied for Macron. The spokesman for Les Républicains said the political bureau was to meet to adopt a common position but that “not a voice should go to Le Pen.”

It was the first time that the LR party departed from the line of neutrality it had set for itself, by taking sides in the second round.

Fillon’s decision to back Macron, to block the Front National did not sit well with some of his voters for whom Plan B had never been Macron, but Le Pen. First comments revealed that they felt betrayed and unlikely to follow Fillon’s voting instructions.

This was the case for George Fenech, a judge and member of Les Républicains party, who told journalists with irritation that of course he would never vote for Macron or instruct Fillon’s voters to do so. For how could he back a candidate that he had previously fought without losing all credibility? He also believed that such a wholesale transfer of votes to a rival party was a tactical mistake, a political suicide, for it meant for LR would cease to exist as an independent political entity, and would effectively merge into Macron’s En Marche movement.

Fillon’s speed in backing his former competitor was especially shocking given the circumstances of his campaign. Fillon had been investigated for a claim of fake jobs that cost him his lead in the polls. He had counter-attacked and accused Hollande of dirty tricks against him to boost his protégé Emmanuel Macron, even going so far as filing a claim with the Public Prosecutor for the President, a French office, to investigate the president.

In the camp of the old Left, political alliances also began to recompose as soon as the results were announced. Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a solemn appeal to vote for Macron to combat “regressive forces.” The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, followed suit.

As for socialist party leader Benoit Hamon, despite his enmity toward Macron, and the latter’s betrayal of the party, which he left six months before the campaign to run as an independent, he announced he was supporting Macron, who was “a mere political rival” while Marine Le Pen was an “enemy of the Republic.”

Hollande himself made a solemn appearance on the following day to say he was voting for Macron. In a pathetic display of demagoguery, he lashed out at Le Pen who he claimed represented “extremism, narrow parochialism and discrimination against a whole segment of the French citizens, based on their origin and religion.”

All this political effervescence was captured in a humoristic show

In view of the outpouring of support from the traditional left and right for the candidate of La France en Marche, the gap separating him from the candidate of the Front National is likely to widen further.

Macron could conceivably embody “renewal” for voters with his youthful looks that get him likened to “the ideal son-in-law,” provided they are able to filter out his “Rothschild candidate” profile – a reference to the four years he spent at Rothschild & Cie Banque as a managing partner. Rothschild bankers are known as globalists and some believe that in case of a Le Pen victory, they would block all credit to France.

Le Pen does not miss an opportunity to say that Macron stands for “unbridled globalization” and “a world without borders.” When he was Minister of Economy and Industry, he sold Toulouse airport to the Chinese, and Alstom [a French multinational company in the rail transport industry] to General Electric.

Polls indicate that many French are reluctant to embrace globalization with open arms – especially in rural France where Le Pen has widespread support.

In the second round of the election, the key topic of globalization and the EU, “euro-globalization’ as it is called in France, will be brought front and center in the political debate, which explains Le Pen’s declaration that the real debate would then finally begin.

She said she did not fear having Macron, that media creation, as her opponent. She repeatedly said he was the one she dreamed of confronting, for he represents her polar opposite and thus offers her an opportunity to showcase her program in the areas of terrorism, migrants, financial dictatorship, the EU and globalism.

Macron, on the other hand, does not have a defining theme that could mobilize his supporters. He distinguished himself during the campaign by the vacuousness of his speeches. He gave the impression of being a ‘default’ candidate, while Le Pen could count on a base of convinced fans.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, interviewed on the BFM TV channel on election night, described Macron as a smiley but masked man, whose intentions were largely unknown.

In his message to his supporters  that night, Macron positioned himself as the future president “of all patriots facing the threat of nationalists.” By introducing this specious distinction, he was laying claim to patriotism. He had been criticized as unpatriotic a few weeks ago for saying – while on a trip to Algeria – that French colonization had been a crime against humanity. He celebrated his victory  at the Rotonde-Montparnasse with his wife Brigitte, friend and mentor Jacques Attali, and European MP Daniel Cohn-Benditt, all of them inveterate globalists.

Le Pen enjoyed another kind of treat – “anti-fascist demonstrations,” where nine were wounded, including six policemen, and 29 were arrested. They were likely financed by non-government organizations affiliated with the ubiquitous George Soros, who was reported to have invested in Google to step up its “Fake News” campaign designed to depress the vote of anti-globalist Le Pen. Soros has also invested 970,000 euros this year to thwart France’s counter-terrorism efforts, under the guise of defending “human rights.”

Beyond the euphoria of the Lepenistes, the chance for Le Pen to win on May 7 is objectively slimmer than Macron’s, unless the 21.75% of voters who abstained in the first round decide to come out and massively cast their ballots for her. True enough, her anti-globalization stance is shared by 50% of the French population, but a good segment of this potential electorate is ‘sterilized’ as it perceives her as a “racist” and a “xenophobe.” The way forward in the rest of her campaign is, therefore, to focus more on the anti-globalization dimension of her program, and less on the migrant issue, in order to capture as much of that dormant electorate as possible.

Other than that, she might be able to tap into 33% of François Fillon’s electorate, mainly from members of  ‘Sens Commun.’ This is a movement which had opposed same-sex marriage back in 2013 and formed the last bastion of loyalists to Fillon during his judicial woes. There is no way they could identify with Macron’s values and therefore, they are likely to switch to Le Pen or abstain from voting altogether. Moments ago, that movement, also called La Manif pour tous, because it had called people to take to the streets to protest same-sex marriage, asked supporters not to vote for Macron, “the openly anti-family candidate.” Meanwhile, on Royalists’ Facebook pages (yes, France still has royalists), its adherents are also voicing opposition to a Macron vote, such as this one of the Prince of Orleans.

Other sympathizers go so far as to express a preference for Le Pen.

A reader of the conservative magazine Valeurs Actuelles wrote: “We want a fighting party, with a warrior at the head. Not weather-vanes rotating in every direction .”

Another denounced the “patronizing approach” of Fillon’s call to vote for a designated candidate. “The best for him would have been, like Melenchon, to shut up and tell his voters to follow the promptings of their conscience. We are not children to be told what to do.” He added that he would personally vote for Le Pen, and that five years of Hollande were quite enough without having to endure five more years under his “spiritual heir.”

As things stand now, two days after results came out, and depending on whom you pop the question to, only around one-third of former Fillonists are saying they will vote for Le Pen, while one-third will abstain or return a blank ballot. The remaining third will dutifully do as told and rally behind Macron. However, abstentions will ‘mechanically’ boost Le Pen more than Macron, and this prompted Juppé to warn against them in a tweet this week.

Le Pen may also possibly count on the 5% votes obtained by the sovereignist Dupont Aignant – who had been asking Fillon to desist and transfer his votes to him. He announced that he would communicate his voting instructions early next week.

She could perhaps also benefit from a small segment of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s electorate (19.4% of the votes), since he left his voters free to vote for whomever they wanted. He said he was not mandated by his constituents to represent them at the poll. Consequently, he would not ask them to vote for a particular candidate. The leader of La France insoumise remained unbending to the end.

Although Melenchon is a populist like Le Pen, his is a leftwing and socially liberal brand of populism, and he recoils in horror at what he views as her “racism” and “xenophobia.” Consequently, very few Melenchonists could realistically cross the Rubicon into Le Pen’s lap. Furthermore, the spokesperson for Melenchon’s party, called today on voters to refrain from giving a single vote to Le Pen’s Front National. He also told them not to vote for Macron and abstain altogether, focusing on the next legislative race instead. It was not clear whether he was speaking in Melenchon’s name or his own

Le Pen, who was also interviewed today on prime time TV, winked at Melenchon’s electorate when she portrayed Macron as a the “submission” candidate who bowed to everything and everyone – lobbies, banks,  Brussels…etc. She said France under Macron would be a “submissive France,” as opposed to the France Insoumise in Melenchon’s motto, meaning, unbending France.

According to political scientists, the Front National can realistically gain 10% to 15% during the second round. This party has previously shown its ability to gain traction even between the two rounds of an election. Polls are currently predicting 38% for Le Pen, versus 62% for Macron at the end of the second round.

Le Pen has taken leave from her party’s presidency to devote herself to her campaign, and she is traveling all over France to speak to the people.

Last night, another thunderstorm brought the curtain down on Fillon’s political involvement in the foreseeable future. He kissed goodbye his Les Républicains party, announcing to its political bureau that he would not campaign for the legislative elections next June. “I no longer have the legitimacy to lead the fight,” he said. “I will become a militant in spirit among the rest of you.” He said he now intends to rebuild his bruised family.

The knives were out for him in his own clan. Alain Juppé, his crushed rival at the presidential primary, said the defeat of the Right in the first round was partly attributable to Fillon, the other part being his program – too liberal economically but too conservative socially, with its emphasis on the ‘work, patriotism and family’ trinity. Others echoed his denial of Fillon, so subtly that poison would be more appropriate a term than knife.

Almost simultaneously, rearguard maneuvers started, indicating that good old Nicolas Sarkozy could perhaps vie for the party’s leadership. He denied it, claiming all he was interested in was the unity of his political family and to provide ‘the unifying cement” among its members. A meeting organized at the party’s headquarters on the day following the results of the first round pointed to a Right feverishly trying to strategize to win the upcoming legislative elections and avoid political death.

A working breakfast on Wednesday morning, supposedly among members of Les Républicains, but in actual fact with only a subset of 40 Sarkozyistes, was also held to devise a way forward. It emerged from it that François Baroin – formerly slated to become prime minister in a Fillon presidency – would probably become the leader of Les Republicains. This would position him to also be selected as prime minister under a Macron presidency, given that the LR is the largest political formation and that Macron has no MPs of his own, having created his En Marche ‘party’ a mere six months before the presidential campaign. A final statement was issued, urging voters to block Le Pen, but falling short of instructing to vote for Macron because of lack of consensus.

The winners of the presidential first round are, too, already projecting themselves into the legislative elections of June 11 and June 18. Given the recomposition of the political chessboard, neither Macron nor Le Pen would have a majority in the National Assembly if elected president. But if Le Pen is unable to win the presidency, her party is in a position to win many constituencies in Spring 2017. The Front National is now a party that carries substantial political weight. Le Pen is looking, therefore, to turn it into a fixture of the political landscape.

 

 

 

 



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In France, conservative Fallon takes a swing at socialist President Hollande


Fillon is ironically embroiled in an investigation of his own after allegations surfaced in the press that he had remunerated his wife Penelope for a fake assistant job years ago. News reports first appeared on Jan. 25 and an investigation was immediately initiated by the Public Prosecutor. But the attacks did not stop there. The ‘Canard Enchaîné,’ the paper behind the first revelations, followed them up with others with a strange zeal – fake jobs for two of his children too, an interest-free 50,000-euro loan that Fillon had failed to declare, and personal gifts perhaps indicating influence-peddling.

Despite Fillon’s denial of any wrongdoing and the presumption of innocence, he was normally entitled to, the media rendered a de facto guilty verdict even before his auditioning by the examining judges.

The media outlet ‘France Inter’ even coined a novel legal concept, tailor-made to indict Fillon in popular opinion: “the presumption of guilt”

and it invited its legal ‘expert’ to confuse a lay audience.

Media relentlessness, coupled with Fillon’s investigation over facts sometimes twenty years old, timed to coincide with a presidential election where he was the leading candidate and the candidate of change, pointed to a collusion between the executive, the judiciary and the media. But daring to challenge “the independence of justice” and the “integrity of the Republic’s institutions” that each and all presidential candidates were “expected to uphold,” came at a price. It unleashed a storm of criticism and new defections among his supporters.

Yet, Fillon would not be silenced. Within a few weeks, a man once measured and mild-mannered had morphed into a rebel set against a corrupt establishment. Bypassing it, he went directly to the people to seek out his legitimacy, despite the clamor that by doing so he was, like Donald Trump, “personalizing” his campaign. He was acclaimed by 40,000 Parisians who came to show their enthusiastic support at a political rally improvised on March 5 at ‘Place du Trocadéro’.

Thierry Lentz, historian and director of the Napoleon Foundation, offers an interesting analysis of the catch-22 situation into which the establishment was trying to lock Fillon. He calls it a ‘Judicial Assassination’ 

“The tune of the independent justice is an easy one to play, easier still when it is made to rime with “Republican values.”  For woe unto those who dare question that independence, or those circumstances surrounding the designation of a prosecutor and the timing of the procedure, or who protest the leaking of confidential documents to those most likely to publish them – unscrupulous journalists.

Victims of that foul play often have no other choice than to bite the bullet and refrain from counter-attacking, while reaffirming their faith in their country’s justice system, possibly with their hand on their heart.”

Under the guise of “the independence of justice,” and “respect for due process,” they are thus silenced – even friends and communication consultants advise them to lie low – to avoid the stigma of “anti-republicanism” or, worse, being accused of sedition.

For the scheme to work, the complicity of the Fourth Estate is of the essence. And it is usually part of the equation, based on the unassailable tenet of the “duty to inform.”  Media unaccountability is thereby reinforced, except perhaps to shareholders who, by some happy coincidence, happen to sponsor a rival candidate.”

A blatant example of media collusion was offered on the evening of March 23, when France 2 had the interesting idea of putting François Fillon face-to-face with a “surprise guest.” Christine Angot was introduced to viewers as a “writer,” as she is by the number, if not the quality of her books. Her intervention could have been the legitimate questioning of a candidate by a private citizen, but instead, it turned into the lynching of a man to whom the presumption of innocence applied no more.  In a way reminiscent of Democrats’ moral decline in the United States, Angot epitomized what had become of the ‘moral’ left in France: a “violent imposture unconcerned with the minimum respect due to interlocutors,” who were condemned before even being heard. As a self-appointed public prosecutor and moralizing voice of the people all at once, she announced at the outset that she had not come to debate. Dramatically clad in black like a harpy, a “Cretan goddess of death, she viciously tore up her prey with her claws.”

She spewed venom on Fillon for 10 minutes, without presenter David Pujadas intervening to shut her up. But when the untamed shrew realized her performance was getting booed by people in the audience, she walked out of the show. Not before throwing defiantly in Fillon’s face that the TV presenter had made her come to say what he could not say himself.

Interestingly, France 2’s choice of a debater to challenge Fillon was also no stranger to defamation. She was sentenced in a 2013 libel case and is currently investigated in another.

Her psychological profile, too, could not have been more different from the Catholic Fillon, a devoted husband to the same woman for 36 years and the father of five children. He must have represented the loathable ‘patriarcal right’ for this woman whose books invariably revolved around incest, homosexuality and promiscuity.

Her story ‘Incest,’ is part confession of a homosexual bond and part recollection of an incestuous relationship with her father, and had propelled her to the front of the literary scene. A few years later, her former lover who chosed to be called ‘Doc Gynéco,’ had the surprise of discovering his most private moments with Angot shared in gory detail in her new book, ‘The Market of Lovers.’

Angot received a literary prize, endowed with 30,000 euros by Pierre Bergé, life partner of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and promoter of the ‘marriage for all.’

The same Pierre Bergé is the head of the influential ‘Le Monde’ paper and an important sponsor of Emmanuel Macron, Fillon’s leftwing rival.

Throughout the broadcast, Fillon defended himself with dignity:

“The press has been pouring on me a torrent of mud . In 36 years of public life, never was my honor questioned in any way.”

When presenter Pujadas asked him facetiously if he still saw a collusion between the Judiciary, the Interior Ministry and the media, Fillon went on the offensive and dropped his bomb: in the conspiracy against his person and his candidacy, he said, he was implicating the highest official of the State, the President of the Republic, Mr. François Hollande.

Before a stunned audience, he cited a just published book: ‘Welcome to Place Beauvau [the address of the Interior Ministry] – The dirty secrets of a quinquennium,’ which described a vast surveillance system set up by François Hollande since his arrival at the Élysée Palace. This “black cabinet” or shadow structure was used to discredit, even destroy  political adversaries through the use of tricks, ‘scandals’ and leaks about their private life.

“This book was written by journalists who are very far from being my friends since two of them are from the Canard Enchaîné, ” said Fillon. He explained that Hollande was having all judicial communication of interest intercepted and routed to his office. This was highly illegal and  deserved to be investigated, he said. It was to be hoped the Prosecutor would display the same diligence she had shown in his case.

The operation to destabilize Fillon revealed a mastery of time and dossiers that could only come from the president’s office. It was meant to benefit Hollande’s choice – Emmanuel Macron.

On the following morning, six senators and MPs from his ‘Les Republicains’ party seized the public prosecutor of Paris, François Molins, and the national financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette, solemnly asking them to take up the case, “because doubt cannot subsist on such serious accusations affecting the top echelons of the State, including the President of the Republic.”

In their letter, they wrote that seventeen sections of the book could be characterized as crimes of “conspiracy, corruption, influence peddling, corruption of judicial authorities, invasion of privacy, fraudulent collection of personal data, intentional disclosure of confidential data, breach of investigative and professional secrecy, abuse of authority, and other violations and infringements upon fundamental freedoms.”

Within three weeks of the first round of election, this new bombshell has made the already unpredictable French election even harder to call.

Contents from the book are picked up by political experts and commentators. It is starting to dawn on them that Macron’s departure from his ministerial post in the socialist government of François Hollande to create his own party six months before the election, was not an “act of treason.” The indignation was staged. Macron’s exit was actually planned with the President’s acquiescence or perhaps blessing, to permit a rebranding of the Socialist party for the benefit of both.

To wit, Hollande had decided not to run for a second term, conscious that his tenure had been a disaster. As he was already in a state of clinical death, politically speaking, he may have sought to reincarnate through his protegé and alter ego Macron, who would revive a moribund socialism with neo-liberal injections and give it a new look to seduce a disinchanted electorate  eager for change. With Macron elected, Hollande could hope for the extension of his own political career that he could not obtain through reelection. He would probably alnd a prestigious position such as ‘special advisor to the President’ or ‘President of the Constitutional Council’, or why not a high-level UN post? 

But for this Macchiavellian plan to work, it was first necessary, through backstage maneuvering, to demolish Fillon or any other strong candidate who would emerge from the primary to stand in the way of a Macron victory. Their files were ready, to dish the dirt on them. A leftist public prosecutor and a compliant corporate press mostly owned by Macron’s sponsors would do the rest.

Macron’s connivance with Hollande, if established, would be damaging to him. The candidate of ‘change and renewal’ would appear as nothing more than ‘the old Emperor in new clothes.’

Some damage was already inflicted when socialist former prime minister Manuel Valls declared yesterday that he would vote for Macron as of the first round. Macron is none too pleased with this inconvenient political endorsement, which is putting him squarely in the socialist camp, causing him to be seen as a clone of Hollande.

This new development is of course manna for the Fillon camp, which was quick to coin a new name for Emmanuel Macron: “Emmanuel Hollande.”

 The least that can be said is that the game is far from over in this turbulent French presidential election where the stakes are so high, and surprises are to be expected till the very end, as was also the case in the last American election.

In a French presidential campaign increasingly patterned after the U.S. recent soap, rightwing nominee François Fillon publicly accused socialist President Hollande of dirty tricks to destroy his candidacy and any chance of a political change. But going further than Trump with Clinton, he asked the Public Prosecutor to have the President investigated.

Fillon, who served as prime minister under rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy and won a landslide victory at the primary of the right and center last November, dropped his bombshell during a recent live broadcast on the public TV station France 2. He implicated President Hollande in leaks of confidential documents that were meant to eliminate him as a candidate and halt the country’s likely shift to the right. He sternly characterized Hollande’s underhanded tactics as a “state scandal” and demanded an investigation.

Fillon is ironically embroiled in an investigation of his own after allegations surfaced in the press that he had remunerated his wife Penelope for a fake assistant job years ago. News reports first appeared on Jan. 25 and an investigation was immediately initiated by the Public Prosecutor. But the attacks did not stop there. The ‘Canard Enchaîné,’ the paper behind the first revelations, followed them up with others with a strange zeal – fake jobs for two of his children too, an interest-free 50,000-euro loan that Fillon had failed to declare, and personal gifts perhaps indicating influence-peddling.

Despite Fillon’s denial of any wrongdoing and the presumption of innocence, he was normally entitled to, the media rendered a de facto guilty verdict even before his auditioning by the examining judges.

The media outlet ‘France Inter’ even coined a novel legal concept, tailor-made to indict Fillon in popular opinion: “the presumption of guilt”

and it invited its legal ‘expert’ to confuse a lay audience.

Media relentlessness, coupled with Fillon’s investigation over facts sometimes twenty years old, timed to coincide with a presidential election where he was the leading candidate and the candidate of change, pointed to a collusion between the executive, the judiciary and the media. But daring to challenge “the independence of justice” and the “integrity of the Republic’s institutions” that each and all presidential candidates were “expected to uphold,” came at a price. It unleashed a storm of criticism and new defections among his supporters.

Yet, Fillon would not be silenced. Within a few weeks, a man once measured and mild-mannered had morphed into a rebel set against a corrupt establishment. Bypassing it, he went directly to the people to seek out his legitimacy, despite the clamor that by doing so he was, like Donald Trump, “personalizing” his campaign. He was acclaimed by 40,000 Parisians who came to show their enthusiastic support at a political rally improvised on March 5 at ‘Place du Trocadéro’.

Thierry Lentz, historian and director of the Napoleon Foundation, offers an interesting analysis of the catch-22 situation into which the establishment was trying to lock Fillon. He calls it a ‘Judicial Assassination’ 

“The tune of the independent justice is an easy one to play, easier still when it is made to rime with “Republican values.”  For woe unto those who dare question that independence, or those circumstances surrounding the designation of a prosecutor and the timing of the procedure, or who protest the leaking of confidential documents to those most likely to publish them – unscrupulous journalists.

Victims of that foul play often have no other choice than to bite the bullet and refrain from counter-attacking, while reaffirming their faith in their country’s justice system, possibly with their hand on their heart.”

Under the guise of “the independence of justice,” and “respect for due process,” they are thus silenced – even friends and communication consultants advise them to lie low – to avoid the stigma of “anti-republicanism” or, worse, being accused of sedition.

For the scheme to work, the complicity of the Fourth Estate is of the essence. And it is usually part of the equation, based on the unassailable tenet of the “duty to inform.”  Media unaccountability is thereby reinforced, except perhaps to shareholders who, by some happy coincidence, happen to sponsor a rival candidate.”

A blatant example of media collusion was offered on the evening of March 23, when France 2 had the interesting idea of putting François Fillon face-to-face with a “surprise guest.” Christine Angot was introduced to viewers as a “writer,” as she is by the number, if not the quality of her books. Her intervention could have been the legitimate questioning of a candidate by a private citizen, but instead, it turned into the lynching of a man to whom the presumption of innocence applied no more.  In a way reminiscent of Democrats’ moral decline in the United States, Angot epitomized what had become of the ‘moral’ left in France: a “violent imposture unconcerned with the minimum respect due to interlocutors,” who were condemned before even being heard. As a self-appointed public prosecutor and moralizing voice of the people all at once, she announced at the outset that she had not come to debate. Dramatically clad in black like a harpy, a “Cretan goddess of death, she viciously tore up her prey with her claws.”

She spewed venom on Fillon for 10 minutes, without presenter David Pujadas intervening to shut her up. But when the untamed shrew realized her performance was getting booed by people in the audience, she walked out of the show. Not before throwing defiantly in Fillon’s face that the TV presenter had made her come to say what he could not say himself.

Interestingly, France 2’s choice of a debater to challenge Fillon was also no stranger to defamation. She was sentenced in a 2013 libel case and is currently investigated in another.

Her psychological profile, too, could not have been more different from the Catholic Fillon, a devoted husband to the same woman for 36 years and the father of five children. He must have represented the loathable ‘patriarcal right’ for this woman whose books invariably revolved around incest, homosexuality and promiscuity.

Her story ‘Incest,’ is part confession of a homosexual bond and part recollection of an incestuous relationship with her father, and had propelled her to the front of the literary scene. A few years later, her former lover who chosed to be called ‘Doc Gynéco,’ had the surprise of discovering his most private moments with Angot shared in gory detail in her new book, ‘The Market of Lovers.’

Angot received a literary prize, endowed with 30,000 euros by Pierre Bergé, life partner of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and promoter of the ‘marriage for all.’

The same Pierre Bergé is the head of the influential ‘Le Monde’ paper and an important sponsor of Emmanuel Macron, Fillon’s leftwing rival.

Throughout the broadcast, Fillon defended himself with dignity:

“The press has been pouring on me a torrent of mud . In 36 years of public life, never was my honor questioned in any way.”

When presenter Pujadas asked him facetiously if he still saw a collusion between the Judiciary, the Interior Ministry and the media, Fillon went on the offensive and dropped his bomb: in the conspiracy against his person and his candidacy, he said, he was implicating the highest official of the State, the President of the Republic, Mr. François Hollande.

Before a stunned audience, he cited a just published book: ‘Welcome to Place Beauvau [the address of the Interior Ministry] – The dirty secrets of a quinquennium,’ which described a vast surveillance system set up by François Hollande since his arrival at the Élysée Palace. This “black cabinet” or shadow structure was used to discredit, even destroy  political adversaries through the use of tricks, ‘scandals’ and leaks about their private life.

“This book was written by journalists who are very far from being my friends since two of them are from the Canard Enchaîné, ” said Fillon. He explained that Hollande was having all judicial communication of interest intercepted and routed to his office. This was highly illegal and  deserved to be investigated, he said. It was to be hoped the Prosecutor would display the same diligence she had shown in his case.

The operation to destabilize Fillon revealed a mastery of time and dossiers that could only come from the president’s office. It was meant to benefit Hollande’s choice – Emmanuel Macron.

On the following morning, six senators and MPs from his ‘Les Republicains’ party seized the public prosecutor of Paris, François Molins, and the national financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette, solemnly asking them to take up the case, “because doubt cannot subsist on such serious accusations affecting the top echelons of the State, including the President of the Republic.”

In their letter, they wrote that seventeen sections of the book could be characterized as crimes of “conspiracy, corruption, influence peddling, corruption of judicial authorities, invasion of privacy, fraudulent collection of personal data, intentional disclosure of confidential data, breach of investigative and professional secrecy, abuse of authority, and other violations and infringements upon fundamental freedoms.”

Within three weeks of the first round of election, this new bombshell has made the already unpredictable French election even harder to call.

Contents from the book are picked up by political experts and commentators. It is starting to dawn on them that Macron’s departure from his ministerial post in the socialist government of François Hollande to create his own party six months before the election, was not an “act of treason.” The indignation was staged. Macron’s exit was actually planned with the President’s acquiescence or perhaps blessing, to permit a rebranding of the Socialist party for the benefit of both.

To wit, Hollande had decided not to run for a second term, conscious that his tenure had been a disaster. As he was already in a state of clinical death, politically speaking, he may have sought to reincarnate through his protegé and alter ego Macron, who would revive a moribund socialism with neo-liberal injections and give it a new look to seduce a disinchanted electorate  eager for change. With Macron elected, Hollande could hope for the extension of his own political career that he could not obtain through reelection. He would probably alnd a prestigious position such as ‘special advisor to the President’ or ‘President of the Constitutional Council’, or why not a high-level UN post? 

But for this Macchiavellian plan to work, it was first necessary, through backstage maneuvering, to demolish Fillon or any other strong candidate who would emerge from the primary to stand in the way of a Macron victory. Their files were ready, to dish the dirt on them. A leftist public prosecutor and a compliant corporate press mostly owned by Macron’s sponsors would do the rest.

Macron’s connivance with Hollande, if established, would be damaging to him. The candidate of ‘change and renewal’ would appear as nothing more than ‘the old Emperor in new clothes.’

Some damage was already inflicted when socialist former prime minister Manuel Valls declared yesterday that he would vote for Macron as of the first round. Macron is none too pleased with this inconvenient political endorsement, which is putting him squarely in the socialist camp, causing him to be seen as a clone of Hollande.

This new development is of course manna for the Fillon camp, which was quick to coin a new name for Emmanuel Macron: “Emmanuel Hollande.”

 The least that can be said is that the game is far from over in this turbulent French presidential election where the stakes are so high, and surprises are to be expected till the very end, as was also the case in the last American election.



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In France, Fillon against All Odds


Lawmakers are entitled to employ family members, but the ‘Canard’ said there was no evidence of actual work.

Despite Fillon’s protestations that his wife Penelope and their children did, in fact, work and all tax returns were duly filed, the media gleefully seized on the story, which nearly monopolized their air time. Viewers were force-fed daily rations of the saga, so much so that even Fillon’s greatest champions began to doubt his honesty.

Many were convinced that the Penelopegate was created to force Fillon, the conservative candidate, out of the presidential race. This would leave the field open to Emmanuel Macron, the socialist candidate of the establishment.

In the final weeks before the commencement of the primary, Macron had resigned his ministerial post in the socialist government of Manuel Valls to run as an independent candidate on a platform he described as “liberal, or neoliberal, but definitely not socialist.” While he was initially lagging in the polls behind Fillon, he has sprinted ahead and now leaves him far behind. The populist ‘National Front’ party of Marine Le Pen continues to rank second.

The embattled Fillon remained steadfast as each passing day brought more bad news. His house was searched and he was summoned to appear before the examining magistrates on March 15 – two days before the electoral deadline of 500 requisite sponsorships. The dreadful timing reinforced the impression that Fillon was targeted for political assassination.

His constituents started to jump ship. The first to bolt were former supporters of his center-right rival, Alain Juppé, who had transferred their votes to him after his landslide victory over Juppé in the primary.

Juppé who had initially remained silent, let it be known through his entourage on Friday that he could be persuaded to enter the race again if Fillon withdrew his candidacy. Juppé proved to be a weak candidate in the primary, where he lost to Fillon who had scored twice as many votes. He also was no stranger to prosecution, having been sentenced in 2004 to a suspended 14-month prison term and to one year of political ineligibility in a case of…fictitious jobs at the Paris City Hall.

To better pave the way for Macron, and guard against the victory of the populist candidate, a similar accusation was filed a few days later against Marine Le Pen.

Like Fillon, Le Pen was summoned to appear before the financial magistrates. But unlike him, she refused to comply until the electoral process was over.

The establishment was obviously trying to present its candidate, Macron, as the only one with clean hands, as the “White Horse” of the French people. But was he?

This former tax inspector had taken a timely ‘sabbatical’ from public service to do a stint as an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque in 2008, a bank that serves as one of the antechambers of power at the heart of the French establishment.

His docility – perhaps due to his young age – brought him the ultimate distinction: first to become an associate, and then a managing partner.

At only 39, he was already a millionaire after managing a merger acquisition on behalf of Nestlé and Pfizer for more than 11 billion Swiss francs. But he ‘forgot’ to pay his wealth tax – ‘renovating’ his wife’s house so that his earnings would remain below EUR1.3 million. This is the threshold at which France’s notorious ‘wealth tax’ is triggered. Supreme irony, the story was broken a few years ago by the same ‘Canard Enchaîné’ which is now going after François Fillon.

In 2012, Macron was appointed ‘Deputy Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic’.

His path just kept moving upward. In June 2014, the Elysée (this is the French equivalent of the White House) announced that Macron was to leave the office of François Hollande, where he concurrently held the positions of  ‘Economic and Financial Advisor ‘and ‘Deputy Secretary-General of the Elysée,’ to be appointed Minister of Economy and Industry. He was then barely 36 years old.

Macron has refused to reveal the names of his campaign funders, claiming it would be a “breach of confidence”.

It is however clear that he has the backing of many of the heavy hitters in large corporations. With a program that can be described as flimsy at best, he seems little more than a media bubble, albeit a big one in a country where nine billionaires own almost all media outlets, giving financial circles unprecedented control over mainstream media.

Marine Le Pen denounced the relationship between Macron and the corporate world in a TV interview yesterday on BFMTV, the media outlet owned by Patrick Drahi, a Moroccan-born multibillionaire media mogul with French and Israeli citizenship who lives in Switzerland.

Macron is rumored to be behind the ‘coup’ staged against Fillon. Insider information made the rounds in early February that the ‘dossier’ relating to Penelope Fillon’s employment came from the Ministry of Finance and was handed to the Canard by a close friend of Macron who owes him his current post at the Elysée. It was a typical case of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’  A letter denouncing the scam was sent to the Canard by a former leader of the French Patrol, an elite unit of the French air force comparable to the Blue Angels.

The odds were certainly stacked against Fillon.

Pressured by his own political family to let go and give them a chance to recover; faced with rearguard attacks from a left clinging to power; placed under investigation by a justice system seemingly complicit with the political and media establishment, he decided to fight back and first, to maintain his speaking engagements in the campaign.

At a political rally in Nîmes, he was slapped with more bad news just as he was entering the hall, but he bit the bullet and his opening words were “My friends, it is a fighter who stands before you.”

He said that the attacks against him would not have been so fierce had his program been more bland. There was something about his candidature and people’s support that “went against the grain of political correctness” and that’s why the “grindstone and the rumor mill” were being used against him 24/7.

He vowed not to back down and betray those who counted on him to get their country back. He also would not stand to see his legitimacy, conferred on him by his overwhelming victory in the primary, held hostage to an arbitrary judicial timeline.

He invited attendees and fans to mobilize in a show of support on Sunday, March 5, at Place du Trocadéro in Paris. It was organized by his teams under the banner: ‘The People of the Right Fight Back.’

Its stated aim was to counter the judicial ‘coup,’ which was trying to “confiscate” the presidential election through an anti-Fillon manhunt, and to get “the street” to confirm Fillon’s legitimacy.

The news of the rally enraged President François Hollande who, from the Elysee Palace, deplored “this kind of questioning by the street of France’s laws, institutions, and justice system during an investigation.”

The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, joined Hollande’s appeal and called for restraint and “dignity.”  After the announcement of the rally, there were more defections – including Fillon’s campaign manager and spokesman, both uneasy about his showdown with the judiciary, which they deemed inappropriate for an aspiring president who would be called upon to uphold France’s institutions.

Despite these defections, his supporters came out by the tens of thousands. The mainstream media tried to downplay the numbers, just as CNN did when it showed pictures – perhaps doctored – of Trump’s inauguration versus Obama’s.

To the cheering crowd, Fillon’s opening statement was: “They think I am alone. They want me to be alone. Are we alone?”

 He was not only defending his honor and that of his wife, but “a certain idea of France’s greatness,” he said in words reminiscent of Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” It was the France of Victor Hugo, Georges Clemenceau, Albert Camus, and Charles de Gaulle that he had invited to be present at the Trocadero rally.

He deplored the sorry state of the nation after five years of disastrous socialist government and lashed out at Hollande for his constant efforts to bring the country down. He predicted that Hollande’s “towel holder” Macron was getting ready to walk in his footsteps.

He had particularly scathing words for Macron’s demagoguery in going to Algeria to bash France’s colonial past and call it a “crime against humanity,” in what was an obvious bid to win the Muslim vote. The same Macron, while on a visit to London, had also declared that there was “no such thing as a French culture.”

Fillon mocked his former supporters so prompt in switching allegiance or “falling on their wallet,” stating that they had acted “without shame or pride.”

Finally, he reminded the crowds that their country was in a state of emergency as a result of a string of terror attacks. Their selection of a candidate should therefore be based on issues – terrorism, immigration, unemployment – not the “buzz” of the moment, he added, in an indirect reference to the media frenzy surrounding the Penelopegate brouhaha.

Some commentators have blamed him for personalizing the election – for the “Trumpization” of his campaign, as they called it. But Fillon is by nature a low-key, private man, very different from the flamboyant, larger-than-life Donald Trump.

It was not his fault that the presidential race should increasingly be focused on personal dramas rather than key issues. Fillon was the candidate who had outlined the best program for France’s recovery during the primary campaign. But the floodgates of a scandal were suddenly flung open and drowned everything.

Furthermore, while Trump was from the start an outsider to politics, an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, reluctantly endorsed by his own Republican Party, Fillon came from the inside and held public office – as prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, and as a member of parliament.

Yes, there was certainly a moment where his woes threatened to catapult him into the anti-establishment camp. And yes, at those times he sounded a bit like Trump – when he cast doubt on the judiciary’s independence, and denounced the press’ lack of truthfulness. But France is not the U.S., and the backlash was severe. Several of Fillon’s close collaborators defected as a result, causing him to soften his stance.

The direct line of communication Fillon established with people by inviting them to legitimize his candidacy at the Trocadero, also smacked of Trump’s populist discourse.

But this episode of marginalization will soon be over as Fillon has just been invested with renewed legitimacy. This happy surprise came recently when Alain Juppé, who had been pressed to accept a nomination transfer, officially and conclusively declined it at a press conference, bringing clarity to a confusing situation. The influential political committee of ‘Les Republicains,’ a rightwing political party, convened in an emergency session that same evening and unanimously renewed their support for Fillon, thereby rehabilitating him as the officially endorsed candidate.

Yet, the storm of the last few weeks has taken its toll. Some defectors did not come back. Fillon also slid back in the polls. He is now in third position behind Macron and Le Pen, after ranking first. He needs to gain at least five points to stand a chance of making it to the second round.

Part of his electorate migrated to Macron’s camp, the main beneficiary of Fillon’s woes. He will have to snatch it back. Le Pen remained at the same place as she seems to have her own stable electorate which won’t fluctuate much until, of course, the second round when votes get transferred to the finalists and surprises may occur. She presently enjoys 25% in the polls, one point less than Macron, and six more than Fillon. Fillon should regain a bit of strength after the Trocadero success, and this will reflect in the next poll.

Further twists are to be expected in this atypical presidential election, with the beginning of Fillon’s investigation scheduled for March 15, and the first televised debate among candidates planned for March 20. The first round of the election will be held on April 23.

They must be too a sign of the times – presidential races turning to circuses. The latest twist in the French campaign is the investigation of the leading candidate, former Premier François Fillon, prompted by allegations that he paid his wife for years for a fake parliamentary assistant job.

When the satirical weekly ‘Canard Enchaîné’ dropped its bombshell on François Fillon at the end of January, alleging that between 1998 and 2007 he had remunerated his British-born wife Penelope and two of their five children for fictional jobs, the financial prosecutor lost no time. Within 24 hours, a probe was launched and Fillon’s office raided.

Lawmakers are entitled to employ family members, but the ‘Canard’ said there was no evidence of actual work.

Despite Fillon’s protestations that his wife Penelope and their children did, in fact, work and all tax returns were duly filed, the media gleefully seized on the story, which nearly monopolized their air time. Viewers were force-fed daily rations of the saga, so much so that even Fillon’s greatest champions began to doubt his honesty.

Many were convinced that the Penelopegate was created to force Fillon, the conservative candidate, out of the presidential race. This would leave the field open to Emmanuel Macron, the socialist candidate of the establishment.

In the final weeks before the commencement of the primary, Macron had resigned his ministerial post in the socialist government of Manuel Valls to run as an independent candidate on a platform he described as “liberal, or neoliberal, but definitely not socialist.” While he was initially lagging in the polls behind Fillon, he has sprinted ahead and now leaves him far behind. The populist ‘National Front’ party of Marine Le Pen continues to rank second.

The embattled Fillon remained steadfast as each passing day brought more bad news. His house was searched and he was summoned to appear before the examining magistrates on March 15 – two days before the electoral deadline of 500 requisite sponsorships. The dreadful timing reinforced the impression that Fillon was targeted for political assassination.

His constituents started to jump ship. The first to bolt were former supporters of his center-right rival, Alain Juppé, who had transferred their votes to him after his landslide victory over Juppé in the primary.

Juppé who had initially remained silent, let it be known through his entourage on Friday that he could be persuaded to enter the race again if Fillon withdrew his candidacy. Juppé proved to be a weak candidate in the primary, where he lost to Fillon who had scored twice as many votes. He also was no stranger to prosecution, having been sentenced in 2004 to a suspended 14-month prison term and to one year of political ineligibility in a case of…fictitious jobs at the Paris City Hall.

To better pave the way for Macron, and guard against the victory of the populist candidate, a similar accusation was filed a few days later against Marine Le Pen.

Like Fillon, Le Pen was summoned to appear before the financial magistrates. But unlike him, she refused to comply until the electoral process was over.

The establishment was obviously trying to present its candidate, Macron, as the only one with clean hands, as the “White Horse” of the French people. But was he?

This former tax inspector had taken a timely ‘sabbatical’ from public service to do a stint as an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque in 2008, a bank that serves as one of the antechambers of power at the heart of the French establishment.

His docility – perhaps due to his young age – brought him the ultimate distinction: first to become an associate, and then a managing partner.

At only 39, he was already a millionaire after managing a merger acquisition on behalf of Nestlé and Pfizer for more than 11 billion Swiss francs. But he ‘forgot’ to pay his wealth tax – ‘renovating’ his wife’s house so that his earnings would remain below EUR1.3 million. This is the threshold at which France’s notorious ‘wealth tax’ is triggered. Supreme irony, the story was broken a few years ago by the same ‘Canard Enchaîné’ which is now going after François Fillon.

In 2012, Macron was appointed ‘Deputy Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic’.

His path just kept moving upward. In June 2014, the Elysée (this is the French equivalent of the White House) announced that Macron was to leave the office of François Hollande, where he concurrently held the positions of  ‘Economic and Financial Advisor ‘and ‘Deputy Secretary-General of the Elysée,’ to be appointed Minister of Economy and Industry. He was then barely 36 years old.

Macron has refused to reveal the names of his campaign funders, claiming it would be a “breach of confidence”.

It is however clear that he has the backing of many of the heavy hitters in large corporations. With a program that can be described as flimsy at best, he seems little more than a media bubble, albeit a big one in a country where nine billionaires own almost all media outlets, giving financial circles unprecedented control over mainstream media.

Marine Le Pen denounced the relationship between Macron and the corporate world in a TV interview yesterday on BFMTV, the media outlet owned by Patrick Drahi, a Moroccan-born multibillionaire media mogul with French and Israeli citizenship who lives in Switzerland.

Macron is rumored to be behind the ‘coup’ staged against Fillon. Insider information made the rounds in early February that the ‘dossier’ relating to Penelope Fillon’s employment came from the Ministry of Finance and was handed to the Canard by a close friend of Macron who owes him his current post at the Elysée. It was a typical case of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’  A letter denouncing the scam was sent to the Canard by a former leader of the French Patrol, an elite unit of the French air force comparable to the Blue Angels.

The odds were certainly stacked against Fillon.

Pressured by his own political family to let go and give them a chance to recover; faced with rearguard attacks from a left clinging to power; placed under investigation by a justice system seemingly complicit with the political and media establishment, he decided to fight back and first, to maintain his speaking engagements in the campaign.

At a political rally in Nîmes, he was slapped with more bad news just as he was entering the hall, but he bit the bullet and his opening words were “My friends, it is a fighter who stands before you.”

He said that the attacks against him would not have been so fierce had his program been more bland. There was something about his candidature and people’s support that “went against the grain of political correctness” and that’s why the “grindstone and the rumor mill” were being used against him 24/7.

He vowed not to back down and betray those who counted on him to get their country back. He also would not stand to see his legitimacy, conferred on him by his overwhelming victory in the primary, held hostage to an arbitrary judicial timeline.

He invited attendees and fans to mobilize in a show of support on Sunday, March 5, at Place du Trocadéro in Paris. It was organized by his teams under the banner: ‘The People of the Right Fight Back.’

Its stated aim was to counter the judicial ‘coup,’ which was trying to “confiscate” the presidential election through an anti-Fillon manhunt, and to get “the street” to confirm Fillon’s legitimacy.

The news of the rally enraged President François Hollande who, from the Elysee Palace, deplored “this kind of questioning by the street of France’s laws, institutions, and justice system during an investigation.”

The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, joined Hollande’s appeal and called for restraint and “dignity.”  After the announcement of the rally, there were more defections – including Fillon’s campaign manager and spokesman, both uneasy about his showdown with the judiciary, which they deemed inappropriate for an aspiring president who would be called upon to uphold France’s institutions.

Despite these defections, his supporters came out by the tens of thousands. The mainstream media tried to downplay the numbers, just as CNN did when it showed pictures – perhaps doctored – of Trump’s inauguration versus Obama’s.

To the cheering crowd, Fillon’s opening statement was: “They think I am alone. They want me to be alone. Are we alone?”

 He was not only defending his honor and that of his wife, but “a certain idea of France’s greatness,” he said in words reminiscent of Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” It was the France of Victor Hugo, Georges Clemenceau, Albert Camus, and Charles de Gaulle that he had invited to be present at the Trocadero rally.

He deplored the sorry state of the nation after five years of disastrous socialist government and lashed out at Hollande for his constant efforts to bring the country down. He predicted that Hollande’s “towel holder” Macron was getting ready to walk in his footsteps.

He had particularly scathing words for Macron’s demagoguery in going to Algeria to bash France’s colonial past and call it a “crime against humanity,” in what was an obvious bid to win the Muslim vote. The same Macron, while on a visit to London, had also declared that there was “no such thing as a French culture.”

Fillon mocked his former supporters so prompt in switching allegiance or “falling on their wallet,” stating that they had acted “without shame or pride.”

Finally, he reminded the crowds that their country was in a state of emergency as a result of a string of terror attacks. Their selection of a candidate should therefore be based on issues – terrorism, immigration, unemployment – not the “buzz” of the moment, he added, in an indirect reference to the media frenzy surrounding the Penelopegate brouhaha.

Some commentators have blamed him for personalizing the election – for the “Trumpization” of his campaign, as they called it. But Fillon is by nature a low-key, private man, very different from the flamboyant, larger-than-life Donald Trump.

It was not his fault that the presidential race should increasingly be focused on personal dramas rather than key issues. Fillon was the candidate who had outlined the best program for France’s recovery during the primary campaign. But the floodgates of a scandal were suddenly flung open and drowned everything.

Furthermore, while Trump was from the start an outsider to politics, an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, reluctantly endorsed by his own Republican Party, Fillon came from the inside and held public office – as prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, and as a member of parliament.

Yes, there was certainly a moment where his woes threatened to catapult him into the anti-establishment camp. And yes, at those times he sounded a bit like Trump – when he cast doubt on the judiciary’s independence, and denounced the press’ lack of truthfulness. But France is not the U.S., and the backlash was severe. Several of Fillon’s close collaborators defected as a result, causing him to soften his stance.

The direct line of communication Fillon established with people by inviting them to legitimize his candidacy at the Trocadero, also smacked of Trump’s populist discourse.

But this episode of marginalization will soon be over as Fillon has just been invested with renewed legitimacy. This happy surprise came recently when Alain Juppé, who had been pressed to accept a nomination transfer, officially and conclusively declined it at a press conference, bringing clarity to a confusing situation. The influential political committee of ‘Les Republicains,’ a rightwing political party, convened in an emergency session that same evening and unanimously renewed their support for Fillon, thereby rehabilitating him as the officially endorsed candidate.

Yet, the storm of the last few weeks has taken its toll. Some defectors did not come back. Fillon also slid back in the polls. He is now in third position behind Macron and Le Pen, after ranking first. He needs to gain at least five points to stand a chance of making it to the second round.

Part of his electorate migrated to Macron’s camp, the main beneficiary of Fillon’s woes. He will have to snatch it back. Le Pen remained at the same place as she seems to have her own stable electorate which won’t fluctuate much until, of course, the second round when votes get transferred to the finalists and surprises may occur. She presently enjoys 25% in the polls, one point less than Macron, and six more than Fillon. Fillon should regain a bit of strength after the Trocadero success, and this will reflect in the next poll.

Further twists are to be expected in this atypical presidential election, with the beginning of Fillon’s investigation scheduled for March 15, and the first televised debate among candidates planned for March 20. The first round of the election will be held on April 23.



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