Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron consolidated his status as favourite for the French presidency on Friday as pressure mounted on scandal-hit conservative rival Francois Fillon to pull out.
An opinion poll published by Odoxa showed Macron coming first in the first round, pushing far-right leader Marine le Pen into second place for the first time since the line-up of candidates became clear.
In the midst of a crisis of confidence in Fillon’s camp, the same poll showed that should the 62 year-old step down and be replaced by the popular fellow conservative Alain Juppe, it would be Juppe who would win the first round, with Le Pen eliminated.
The poll came as Fillon suffered the latest in a string of resignations among his close advisers and backers, and as a source in Juppe’s entourage said the 71-year-old – who lost to Fillon in the primaries in November – was “ready to take part in the search for a solution”.
Macron presented his manifesto on Thursday and has been climbing in the polls since scandal engulfed Fillon – once the favourite to win the presidency.
Fillon this week promised to fight “to the end” despite the deepening financial scandal over his wife’s pay that could see him placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds later this month.
He has complained of judicial and media bias that amounted to a “political assassination”. Several of his former supporters have since deserted him, saying they cannot support him given those attacks on the judiciary.
Odoxa put Macron on 27 per cent in the first round on April 23 with Le Pen behind him on 25.5 per cent and Fillon on 19.
In a scenario where Juppe was to stand in Fillon’s place, Odoxa put Juppe in front on 26.5, with Macron on 25 and Le Pen out of the contest on 24 per cent.
Odoxa did not present a second-round scenario, but daily polls have consistently shown any candidate beating Le Pen in the May 7 second round.
Another poll by Opinionway confirmed that scenario, although it still had Le Pen ahead in the first round.
There are no recent polls pitting Macron against Juppe in the second round.
Earlier on Friday a lawmaker from Fillon’s The Republicans party said a planned demonstration supporting him would go ahead on Sunday and would be an “important moment” in the presidential race.
President Francois Hollande said late on Thursday that the rally, near a central Paris square dedicated to human rights, should not go ahead because it amounted to a criticism of France’s institutions.