Originally deemed to be a fundamental outsider, Francois Fillon’s dramatic success in the French Republican primary elections with 44% on 22 November has sent shockwaves through the party. Fillon’s unexpected success has arguably insinuated the death knell for former President Sarkozy; who crashed out third with only 20% of the vote.
The former Prime Minister’s prioritisation of resolving the French economic situation during the debate; by mass social cuts and book balancing and his published book “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”, struck a fine chord with Republican members. Therefore members clearly felt more energised by his performance, and not the ‘Mr. Nobody’ that Mr Sarkozy once portrayed him to be.
Nonetheless, Bruno Bruno Cautrès, of the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po (CEVIPOF), argues Fillon’s victory also lay in the pitfalls of Sarkozy. Cautrès argues Sarkozy showed no change from his 2012 Presidential campaign, which ran on the themes of national identity, security and immigration. Amongst other things, the stagnation of Sarkozy’s policies and the numerous allegations of corruption displays his detachment from the public, who foremostly desire a solution to the dire economic situation in France, as over 10% of the workforce are unemployed.
The success has, however, generated a rift in the Republican party with members split in allocating their support for Mr Fillon or Alain Juppé, who finished second in the first round of voting. Some analysts, including Dominique Moïsi, from the think tank Institut Montaigne, regard Mr Juppe to be the far better candidate for the Republicans as he could mobilise the left wing voters, who may abstain due to the ineffective President Hollande.
Nonetheless, Juppé’s support further stems from a belief across France, that there simply is no other alternative who have a good chance in ensuring the ultra-right National Front, become the anomaly in the transatlantic success of populism.
Therefore whether it is François Fillon or Alain Juppé, elected as Lés Republican candidate, they face a major uphill battle next year against Le Pen’s xenophobic, dissident and extreme nationalist rhetoric which appeals to much of the de-industrialised electorate. Regardless of the result, however, the prior exclusion of the Socialist party as even a contender clearly highlights the indispensable appeal of the right wing and conservatism in times of economic hardship.