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French Presidency Elections: Fillon Conservative Candidate – OpEd

France's Francois Fillon. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikipedia Commons.France's Francois Fillon. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikipedia Commons.

Following on the presidency elections in the US, now it’s a NATO ally — and a European country with a Socialist background — France that is on its way to elect its next president.

France is going through the electoral process with what is known as the primacy for choosing the party candidates for the presidency. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon has won the primary in next year’s French presidential election after his rival Alain Juppe admitted defeat. In most countries the primary is not necessary as each party chooses directly its candidate for the election fight.

With virtually all the results counted, Fillon won Sunday’s run-off (primary) with nearly 67% of the vote. Alain Juppe, the more moderate candidate, congratulated Fillon on his “large victory” and pledged to support him in his bid to become president. Juppe appeared in front of his own, determined supporters, to concede the contest. He gave a small smile to the crowds chanting his name and told them he was ending the contest as he began it: “A free man, who didn’t betray who he was or what he thought.” Juppe, also a former prime minister and regarded as more moderate, had initially been seen as the favourite to win the race, but struggled against Fillon’s strong performances in the primary debates.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old former economy minister and protege of Hollande, has already announced plans to stand in the presidential election as a centrist independent. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that he would not rule out running against Hollande in the primary, telling the Journal du Dimanche he wanted to dispel the idea “that the left has no chance” of retaining power.

A former prime minister under Sarkozy, the 62-year-old is a Catholic who is seen as a traditionalist on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Fillon had been widely expected to win the race, after securing 44% of the vote in the first round a week ago that saw former President Nicolas Sarkozy knocked out. He is proposing dramatic economic reforms that include slashing 500,000 public jobs, ending the 35-hour week, raising the retirement age and scrapping the wealth tax.

Now the spotlight falls on the Socialist party and whether the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will stand again in his party’s primaries in January. He is expected to announce his decision in the coming days.

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon was the man to beat going into this run-off vote, and his team knew it. Shortly after polls closed, they were already celebrating at his party headquarters, as the first partial results came in. Within hours, it was confirmed. Fillon had won two-thirds of the vote; a stunning victory for the candidate once seen as the ‘third man’ in the contest.

Fillon promised to build a fairer society, saying France wants “truth and it wants action”. He is likely to face a Socialist candidate and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in next April’s election.

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon.

Detractors say that behind the mask of taciturnity lies a retiring personality ill-suited for the task of head-of-state. Fillon, they say, is one of nature’s lieutenants, a born second-in-command, a would-be leader without the guts to lead. Far from it, reply his supporters. If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

Fillon’s political career has certainly been a long one. It was in 1981, aged 27, that he was first elected as a member of parliament, becoming the National Assembly’s youngest member. His party was the Gaullist RPR of Jacques Chirac. Gaullism features a strong centralized state with conservative and nationalist policies.

Fillon’s parents, a history professor mother and lawyer father, were also Gaullists, and he was brought up in comfortable circumstances near the western city of Le Mans.He studied journalism and then law. In 1974 he met his future wife Penelope Clarke. She is Welsh and they have five children, the last born in 2001. They live near Le Mans, in the Sarthe department which remains Fillon’s powerbase.

Fillon’s first ministerial post, higher education, came in 1993 under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. He went on to hold five other cabinet posts, before serving as prime minister for five years until 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy.

If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

For nearly all of this time, Fillon was identified with the movement known as “social Gaullism”.

Francois Fillon’s French sang-froid and radicalism

Whoever seeks to caricature Fillon as an emotionless masochist must accept that that is at best only part of the picture. This is a man who fell in love with motor-racing as a child when the Austin Healey team stayed in his village during the Le Mans 24-hour race. He could have become a professional driver. He says he has “always had a problem with authority” and as a boy was briefly expelled from school for leading a demonstration against a teacher. He despises politicians who “think of nothing but politics day and night: they are obsessed and unbalanced”. Among his other hobbies are mountaineering and piloting drones. His friend and ally, former minister Roselyine Bachelot, admits the frigid exterior. But she says: “Under the ice there is fire.”

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon. His friend and mentor was the late Philippe Seguin, who believed in strong state intervention in the economy and society. Fillon also shared Seguin’s Euroscepticism, and in 1992 both men voted against the Maastricht Treaty that ushered in the euro.

Later as social affairs minister under Jacques Chirac, Fillon had the image of an honest dealer prepared to put in the hours during long negotiations with trade unions.

All of which sits rather oddly, some would say, with the policies of Francois Fillon the presidential candidate, which are avowedly those of a radical economic liberal. In speech after speech in recent weeks, Fillon has spoken in cataclysmic terms of France’s “broken” social model, and the need for drastic cuts in state spending. “Sometimes you need to tear the whole thing down,” he says.

For Gaspard Koenig, of the free-market think tank Generation Libre, the explanation is that since leaving office in 2012. Fillon underwent “a Damascene conversion”. “He spent the last three years travelling up and down the country. He came to see the exasperation of ordinary people and how they wanted more than anything to get the state off their backs,” he says.

Fillon’s “virage liberal” (liberal U-turn) is a bold strategy in a country where fans of Margaret Thatcher, as he says he is, are not exactly thick on the ground.

And as his opponents seek to portray Fillon as a dangerous right-winger, another weapon will also be to hand: his Catholicism. He is a practicing Catholic. He is personally opposed to abortion, but says he would never seek to repeal the law. Nor would he seek to ban adoption by gay male couples – though he wants the law changed so that a child can trace its birth mother.

For the left, these are signs of worrying ambiguity on matters that are central to a progressive society. The left-wing newspaper Liberation headlined last week on fears of a return of clerical power. But it is not just left-wingers who see a link between Fillon’s Catholicism, his character, and his policies. For Henri Guaino, a former Sarkozy adviser, Fillon “believes in redemption through pain, the idea that you need to suffer in order to be saved. He believes the country has lived too luxuriously for too long. “So now it needs to make sacrifices. It’s like a purge.”

The same Catholic conviction could explain Fillon’s famous taciturnity, a refusal to be ruffled, that can come across as either old-world courtesy or a cold reluctance to engage. And it might also shed light on one of the big questions over his career: why for five years as prime minister he suffered the constant humiliations inflicted by his boss, the man he came to loathe, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obviously, Fillon is a born fighter in his own way but refused to choose the Socialist path which is dominant in French politics. .

Observation

Primary in a party is only a first part of presidential battle and many hurdles must be overcome within the party and with the opponent. . Francois Fillon has taken the conservative ticket in next year’s French presidential election by a landslide at party primaries. With nearly all the ballots counted, he had won 66.5% to 33.5% for his run-off rival, Alain Juppe. He has promised to build a fairer society, saying France wanted “truth and… action”.

The job for Fillon now is to unite his party after this unprecedented primary battle, and prepare to take on the governing Socialist party – and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen – in presidential elections next year. A new opinion poll suggests he would easily beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the actual election. That is only a suggestion and not the real outcome which will be ready only next year by which time the scenario might change as well.

Today the names of political parties do not in fact show character or nature or policies of the party – they are just mere names for identification of individual parties as they compete for power.

Neither communist nor socialist nor republican or democratic or any other name mean anything. In USA, for instance, the Democratic Party has done exactly what the Republican Party has done in terms of terror wars and promoting national energy interests in Mideast.

The Socialist Party in France, notwithstanding its government for too long intermittently, has not achieved any Socialist system of governance or promoted genuinely socialist societal life. Many Socialists and Communists have no ideas about what they stand for.

Elections in the western countries are essentially for the rich and wealthy lords and common people have no place in the poll arena except that they can vote and choose the most wealthiest candidate for the top government job.

The French presidency poll is far away, but Paris is feeling the heat already.


About the Author

Dr. Abdul Ruff
Dr. Abdul Ruff
Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.

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