French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon faced a fresh party rebellion on Tuesday after some 40 lawmakers demanded a “crisis” meeting to discuss his fate amid fears a fake work scandal could derail their bid to win the election.
Fillon, once the election frontrunner, has been fighting to keep his campaign alive and has said he will only step down if he is put under formal investigation.
Over the past week he had appeared to rally his party, but French media reports at the weekend suggested the country’s financial prosecutor was likely to take further legal steps into allegations of fake work by Fillon‘s wife.
That was followed on Monday evening by dissenting lawmakers publicly dining at a central Paris restaurant to discuss whether their candidate was best-suited to represent them, as opinion polls since the scandal broke almost three weeks ago show him slipping out of the race.
“On February 1st … you asked us to hold on 15 more days on the basis that the situation would be clarified favourably,” said an open letter agreed by some 40 lawmakers.
“However, this period has expired, and there has yet to be any clarification. As a result, we have a real concern that our political family, The Republicans, will not be able to compete in this presidential election in a calm and dignified way.”
Voters have been turned off Fillon by the probe into a report by the Canard Enchaine satirical weekly that his wife was paid hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money for work she may not have done.
The Journal de Dimanche (JDD) on Sunday cited unidentified sources saying the proceedings – which would mean the prosecutor had decided against dropping the case for lack of evidence – would involve both Fillon and his British wife Penelope.
“Facing this major crisis, it is your duty to hold without delay a meeting of the political bureau of our movement, the only legitimate place to decide the conditions in which we could renew hope and confidence to the country,” the letter obtained by Reuters said.
The polls, which before the affair saw Fillon as favourite to win the presidency, show the 62-year-old former prime minister coming a close third in the first round vote on April 23.
That would leave first- and second-placed Marine Le Pen of the National Front and centrist Emmanuel Macron to contest the May 7 second round, a runoff the polls show Macron winning comfortably.