The French presidential campaign was already off to a surprising start, with dark-horse candidates having won both of the major parties’ primaries. It was thrown into further disarray two weeks ago by the scandal engulfing conservative Republican party candidate and erstwhile frontrunner, Francois Fillon, who is accused of paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros in salary while he was a member of Parliament for work she never performed. Fillon has denied any wrongdoing and refused to bow out, but his candidacy, based in part on his reputation as a clean politician, has taken a severe hit.
The scandal follows on the heels of the Socialist Party primary, in which Benoit Hamon—a second-tier politician and former education minister who campaigned on a far-left platform—came out of nowhere to defeat centrist former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Hamon will lead a bitterly divided party into the country’s first-round April runoff, facing stiff competition on the left from perennial firebrand candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
With the far-left vote split, Valls eliminated and Fillon very possibly fatally weakened, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist former economy minister, has emerged as the new favorite to move on to second-round voting in May. Despite having never won elected office, Macron has been a darling of the press and consistently finishes as a top contender in public opinion polls.