Francois Fillon has this week emerged a surprise frontrunner in the build up to the 2017 French presidential election. Fillon, a previous prime minister and cabinet minister for labour affairs and later for education, defeated former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of voting in the Les Republicains primary.
A little over 4 million French citizens turned out for this primary on Sunday, 20 November 2016. This voter turnout once again stunned many pundits and has placed the free market liberal Fillon as the frontrunner to face off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the Front National party. It is said that good debate performances by Fillon spurred many to vote for him in the tightly-contested affair. Fillon was trailing by 30 points according to polls less than a month ago, but with a late surge went from 15% to 44% nationally in the primary.
Who Is Francois Fillon?
Francois Fillon has spent the better part of his 35 years in politics in the upper echelons of the French political sphere as the cabinet minister of six different departments, as prime minister and as a legislator at various levels.
The former lawyer is an economic liberal with an affinity towards the policies of the former late British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He is famous for calling to extend the infamous 35-hour work week in France and has said that he will cut public sector jobs by 600,000 to ensure tax cuts for businesses to help revitalise the French economy. Fillon describes himself as a pragmatist and has previously said that he is willing to work with Russia and Syria to fight the Islamic State.
This election is poised to be a showdown between Fillon and Le Pen. The question is who will persuade the French public most effectively on issues such as immigration, trade and the European Union, come April 2016. The staggering unpopularity of current President Francois Hollande of the Parti Socialiste has given rise to these right-leaning candidates and it seems highly unlikely that any of the socialist party’s candidates will make the final two, to contest the election.
The attention now turns to 27 November 2016, where Fillon faces off against Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé. Juppé, who received 28% in the previous primary, faces a tough battle to secure his party’s nomination after the momentum that Fillon received.
It seems surprising that an open admirer of Thatcherist policies is doing so well in a national election. This French election seems to be heading down the same route as many other elections in the past 24 months have. It seems that a variation of realpolitik will once again succeed in convincing an ever-growing frustrated electorate.