Is France’s Chaotic Presidential Election Just the Prelude to Political Instability?

Is France’s Chaotic Presidential Election Just the Prelude to Political Instability?
Francois Fillon and his wife, Penelope, during a rally, Paris, March 5, 2017 (AP photo by Christophe Ena).

PARIS — France’s presidential election veered further toward chaos and uncertainty this past week, when it was announced that Francois Fillon, the embattled nominee of the conservative Republicans party, will very likely be formally investigated for hiring his wife as an assistant while he was in parliament. That alone was not illegal, but there is no evidence she did any of the work for which she was handsomely paid.

Back in early February, when the scandal broke, Fillon promised to withdraw from the race if an investigation was formally opened. In response to pressure from party leaders to immediately replace him with a “Plan B” candidate, he called it “Plan B, for Berezina.” The reference—to a battle during Napoleon’s retreat from Russia that is synonymous here with catastrophe—signaled Fillon’s clear determination to fight any effort to force him out of the race. If he was going down, he implied, the party would go down with him.

That bought him time, mainly for his campaign to lose steam and hemorrhage voter support. But last week, after the initial investigation, judges informed him that a formal investigation will be opened, perhaps as soon as March 15, to determine whether he will be charged. Still, even after droves of political allies publicly deserted him, Fillon has adamantly refused to drop out of the race.

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