France’s Fillon pledges economic reboot as he claims conservative presidential nomination

 

François Fillon

François Fillon

Former prime minister François Fillon on Sunday pledged deep economic reforms after winning the conservative Les Républicains’ presidential nomination.

Fillon, 62, resoundingly beat in-party rival Alain Juppé in France’s conservative presidential primary run-off, one week after he shocked the country’s political landscape by topping the first-round poll.

He earned 66.5 percent of votes in Sunday’s election, with Juppé trailing far behind with 33.5 percent of support, results showed.

“Voters have understood my strategy: France can’t bear its decline. It wants truth and it wants action,” Fillon told supporters gathered to follow the primary results in central Paris. “I will accept this challenge for France: to tell the truth and completely change its software.”

Supporters interrupted his victory speech with shouts of “Fillon, President!”

“The left means failure, the far-right means bankruptcy,” he declared, adding he would be the candidate of “all those who in their hearts are proud to be French”.

It was a surprising political comeback for Fillon, who was France’s prime minister between 2007 and 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy, but was constantly overshadowed by the former president. Fillon also lost a leadership battle for control of Les Républicains (former UMP) party in late 2012.

His victory came after a month-long primary campaign, which saw seven conservative presidential hopefuls vie for their camp’s nomination. It is likely that the winner of the conservative primary will become France’s next president, according to opinion polls.

Juppé bows out

Juppé, who has long eyed France’s highest office, quickly conceded defeat after the first results showed Fillon enjoyed almost a 40-point lead.

“I have finished this campaign as I started it. As a free man who has never compromised on who I am and what I believe,” Juppé said, backing Fillon in France’s forthcoming presidential race. The two-round election contest is scheduled for April 23 and May 7, 2017.

Juppé said he would return to Bordeaux’s city hall, suggesting to teary-eyed supporters that he was retiring from national politics.

Too radical?

Conservative voters appeared to reject Juppé’s more moderate message, instead rallying around a true social and economic right-winger who wants to slash public sector jobs and deregulate the economy.

An admirer of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Fillon will likely go to battle against an increasingly popular far right led by Marine Le Pen.

He has promised that raising the retirement age to 65 and ending early pension rights for many in the state sector will be among his first measures if he wins power next spring.

His proposal of free market reform has already come under attack as too radical in a country with a wide welfare safety net, and where workers enjoy broad protections.