There has been another defeat for polling institutes in France. On Sunday 20 November, 4 million people took part in the “Les Republicains” primaries, setup to choose the next Conservative candidate for the 2017 presidential election.
Embarrassment for the pollsters
If polling companies were enthusiastic to predict a duel between former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacque Chirac’s former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, in the end, it’s Sarkozy’s former Prime Minister François Fillon who took the lead. Which came as a big surprise to all.
Fillon won 44% (1,767,000) of the vote against Juppé who finished second with 1,144,000 votes (28.6%). Juppé was once considered the “best of us” by former President Chirac.
Sarkozy, who has been trying to run a “Trump-like campaign”, only came third with 824,470 votes (20.6%).
For Sarkozy, who once called Fillon his “employee”, the result is deeply humiliating. French Conservatives and registered supporters decided that someone involved in more than ten different scandals should not be allowed to run as candidate in the next presidential election.
Juppé was always favourite in this race, and had been running his campaign as the centre-right candidate, which helped him to win the centrist vote. But he has also tried to portray himself as the new Chirac who is regarded as the last “great French President”, most notably for his foreign policies.
But the very big surprise was Fillon’s first place. Two weeks ago he was in third position in the polls, far behind both Sarkozy and Juppé. According to the polls, Fillon was on 20%.
With few weeks to go, Fillon developed a Thatcherite economic stance with very conservative views on French social affairs. At a time when the British Conservatives, led by Theresa May, are burying Thatcher’s legacy, French Conservatives show, once more, how out of date they are.
Fillon is an ex-PM who is hated by the trade unions, as he fought and won against them in the long-running 2010 strikes concerning the pension reforms of millions of workers.
But Fillon is also not a liberal. He was against gay marriage and supported the so-called “La Manif Pour Tous”, a Catholic movement that came in force in 2012-13 to oppose gay marriage and the possibility of gay couples adopting children.
Out of the three main candidates, Fillon appeared to be the most conservative of all and the closer to the right wing Catholic movement.
But the reason for his success can easily be explained, by years of a socialist government that has implemented centre-right economic policies and has increasingly disappointed even its own supporters.
Therefore, Fillon appeared to bring changes, and reassurances that he will undo what Hollande’s government has done with gay marriage, to the most right wing element of the French Conservatives
Therefore, the result on Sunday brings with it a lot of danger. The winner, who will be announced next Sunday 27 November, will have the backing of 4 million voters. And if it’s Fillon, he will move the French Conservatives from being a centre-right party to the most right wing party in France, after the Front National.
But some have argued that a lot of left wing supporters and activists have been able to infiltrate the Conservative primaries and register as supporters. It is true that some wanted to prevent Sarkozy from being selected.
If elected, Fillon and his “right wing” agenda will have an overwhelming mandate. And as the man who will be the Conservative candidate, he has a great chance of winning the presidential election next year. We could know Hollande’s successor by the 27 November.