IN CRISIS MODE: ‘Ultimate duty’ is to prevent a Le Pen victory, says Hollande –
PARIS: Far-right leader Marine Le Pen could win the forthcoming presidential election in France, President Francois Hollande warned on Monday, vowing to “do everything” in his power to stop it happening.
Polls suggest that Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), is likely to win the first round of France’s election on April 23.
However, surveys also show she would then lose in the deciding second-round run-off on May 7 either to the centrist and pro-business Emmanuel Macron or conservative candidate Francois Fillon.
But with Fillon’s campaign in turmoil over accusations he paid his wife for a fake parliamentary job from public funds, analysts have warned that the election is extremely difficult to predict.
“There is a threat” of Le Pen winning the election, Hollande acknowledged in comments to French daily Le Monde — part of an interview with six European papers.
“The far-right has not been so high (in the polls) for more than 30 years but France will not give in,” vowed the president.
France “is aware that the vote on April 23 and May 7 will determine not only the fate of our country but also the future of the European project itself,” he added.
Le Pen has vowed to ditch the euro as France’s currency if elected and hold a referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union.
Hollande, who has battled stubbornly high unemployment throughout his five-year term and has suffered low poll ratings, decided last year not to run for a second term.
He said it was his “last duty… to do everything to ensure that France is not convinced by such a plan” of taking the country out of the EU.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Alain Juppe said on Monday he had decided “once and for all” not to stand in election, dashing the hopes of many in his conservative party whose scandal-hit candidate faces defeat.
Juppe said Francois Fillon had wasted a chance of victory, calling the 63 year-old obstinate for staying on in the face of an inquiry into alleged misuse of public funds. Opinion polls show him crashing out in the first round.
Juppe offered no alternative plan less than 50 days from the April 23 vote.
Earlier on Monday, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged Fillon and Juppe to meet with him in a bid find a way out of the crisis.
Sarkozy’s camp agreed to ask prominent party member Christian Jacob to meet Fillon and ask him to find a replacement, the ally of Sarkozy said.
Fillon denies wrongdoing. However, his supporters have deserted him in droves since the scandal surfaced and he subsequently reneged on a pledge to stand down should he face being placed under formal investigation.
Calls for Juppe to take Fillon’s place had been increasing inside The Republicans party in recent days.
Sarkozy said on his Twitter feed he wanted a meeting to ensure a “dignified and credible way out from a situation which cannot last any longer and which is the source of deep concerns among French people”.
Juppe did not mention Sarkozy’s plan.
Juppe, who along with Sarkozy lost to Fillon in a November primary vote, said he decided against standing because it had become harder than ever to unite his party and because voters wanted fresh faces.
Despite the calls for Juppe to stand, party sources say supporters of Sarkozy had baulked at such a swap.