Until just 10 days ago, the easy frontrunner to be France’s next president was François Fillon, a conservative Republican and former Prime Minister, whose straight-ace family values and strong anti-terrorism plan promised a steady hand, after five rocky years of the deeply unpopular François Hollande.
But the past weekend showed just how unpredictable the results will be in this spring’s French elections, a vote that could drastically impact Europe, and perhaps parts beyond. Far from being the man to beat, Fillon has been brought low by scandal—so much so that on Sunday, his rivals barely mentioned him during a two-day campaign blitz of mass rallies, where the major candidates hammered away at each other in front of thousands of people, with barely any talk of the recent frontrunner.
Fillon surged in polling in late 2016, as he barnstormed through France pushing for belt-tightening measures, including cutting 500,000 civil-service jobs. Then, in late January, the weekly investigative paper Canard Enchaîné revealed his wife Penelope had earned €900,000 over a period of 12 years, while Fillon was a French Senator and then Prime Minister, for an assistant’s job she appeared never to do, as well a contributor to a literary journal whose editor did not recall her. Fillon also hired two of his five children for seemingly phantom jobs, paying them about €84,000 in additional funds. Then last Thursday, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper released a 2009 videotaped interview with Penelope Fillon, in which she said she had never worked for her husband.