France’s Fillon already a favourite in next elections

Sunday 04/12/2016
François Fillon, former French prime minister and member of the Republican political party, delivers a speech after partial results in the second round for the French centre-right presidential primary election in Paris, November 27th, 2016. (Reuters)

London - French former prime minis­ter François Fillon, a social conservative, looks set to dominate next year’s presidential elections af­ter securing a smooth path to the Republican Party nomination, with many expecting France to lurch to the right on immigration and mul­ticulturalism after four years of So­cialist rule.
Fillon, 62, beat former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppé to secure the conservative Republican Party nomination for president. With France’s ruling Socialist Party in dis­array — President François Hollande has announced he will not seek a second term — there appear to be few impediments to Fillon’s path to Élysée Palace next year. Both defeat­ed rivals, viewed as being less con­servative than Fillon, immediately pledged support for his campaign.
Fillon leads the polls, which have been a poor predictor of votes in 2016, with most political analysts saying that France’s presidential elections will end in a second-round vote between Fillon and the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen, with Fillon winning easily.
The same polls, however, had largely dismissed Fillon during the race for the nomination but he gained popularity following the recent publication of a book called Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism that helped burnish his right-wing credentials. “France is more right wing than it has ever been,” Fillon acknowledged.
“It is bad news. The election of Fillon is a sign that the right has drifted to the far right,” French hu­man rights activist Yasser Louati said.
“His rhetoric was directly target­ing Muslims, although he doesn’t say Muslims. He says ‘Islamic total­itarianists’. This rhetoric appealed to the most radical reactionary fringe of the French population and it is a discourse that does find pur­chase in the French political land­scape and can be seen by both the right and the left,” he said.
Analysts say Fillon’s victory could potentially slow Le Pen’s rise, as both candidates promote similar policies on immigration and social issues and would compete for the same voters.
“Yes, Marine Le Pen is in trouble now. Fillon does have a similar dis­course as with her but without the evil tag of the National Front on his back. So people can now vote for Fillon and not feel guilty for voting for a party that has a history of anti- Semitism and neo-Nazi sympathy,” Louati said.
With the first round of the vote scheduled for April and no consen­sus figure emerging among France’s left wing, hopes for a major upset look slim. “So far the two main can­didates are definitely François Fil­lon and Marine Le Pen,” Louati said.
In his victory speech, Fillon pledged unprecedented change. “I will take up an unusual challenge for France. To tell the truth and completely change its software,” he said. Fillon’s campaign for the nomination had seen the reserved and impassive veteran politician vent about the French status quo, calling for major social and eco­nomic reform and strongly defend­ing “French values”.
Fillon, known to be a fan of the late British prime minister Mar­garet Thatcher, has promised tax and spending cuts, to slash public sector jobs and weaken France’s powerful trade unions. He has also strongly criticised France’s Social­ist Party for its weak response to immigration.
“I will defend those [French] val­ues and we will share them with everyone who, with their differenc­es, loves France,” Fillon said during a presidential debate. He had earli­er emphatically criticised multicul­turalism. “No, France is not a multi­cultural nation. When you come to someone’s house, by courtesy, you don’t take over,” he said.
Fillon has also promised to tackle immigration, saying that he intends to reduce immigration to its “strict minimum” and has promised to de­feat Islamic terrorism, which has been linked to the killing of more than 230 people in France over an 18-month period. Domestically, Fillon has promised “administra­tive controls” on Islam, including banning preaching in Arabic. “The bloody invasion of Islamism into our daily life could herald a third world war,” he warned in Conquer­ing Islamic Totalitarianism.
For human rights activists, such as Louati, Fillon’s election is evi­dence of the homogenisation of French views towards identity politics and the idea of “French val­ues”.
“Everybody [during the next election] will agree on identity politics,” Louati said. “That won’t go away… Even under the current Socialist government, this is clear to see in its policies and how it re­acted in the wake of the attacks. So there clearly is a shift to the right in France.”