Behind Fillon’s surprising display of defiance

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For the second time in as many weeks, Francois Fillon appeared at the podium of his Paris campaign HQ to tell the French people he’s not quitting.

There was every expectation that he would fall on his sword.

The French media rumour mill suggested that Alain Juppe would appear alongside him – a sure sign that he was handing the reins to the man who was the runner-up in the Republican primary campaign.

Another rumour suggested that his wife Penelope, whose alleged fake job is at the heart of the scandal, had been arrested.

Penelope Fillon


Video:Deepening ‘fake jobs’ scandal threatens Fillon

Most of us who have been following the most extraordinary election closely were pretty sure: he was about to quit.

But what then?

Who would take over? Alain Juppe? He’s more centrist than Mr Fillon. How would that affect the polls? It’ll hit Emmanuel Macron hard, surely?

The first clue that the rumours were wrong came when the live pictures of the campaign HQ began to be broadcast.

Mr Fillon was over half an hour late.

But there was only one podium. He and Mr Juppe would need a podium each if they were both appearing. Maybe it would just be Mr Fillon.

:: What you need to know about the French elections – and why you need to know it

Sure enough, alone and looking defiant, Mr Fillon took to the podium. And he wasn’t going anywhere.

Instead he issued an extraordinary attack on the judicial process; he suggested he was suspicious of the police and judges.

“The rule of law is being systematically violated,” he said.

“There have been numerous and serious irregularities as far as the procedure is concerned.

“It is a political assassination.”

It was an assassination not just on him and his family, Mr Fillon said, but on the election itself.

Francois Fillon (R) and Alain Juppe


Video:French presidential candidate: Who is Francois Fillon?

He seemed to be suggesting a genuine conspiracy to block him from winning.

He then said the only people who could judge him were ‘the people’, not institutions.

“It is the French people to whom I submit myself. It’s only they – not justice – who can judge.

“I will not give up.”

Quite apart from Mr Fillon’s deep conviction that he has done nothing wrong and that everyone is out to get him, his decision to fight on may also be because there is literally no one able to take his place.

Mr Juppe has repeatedly said he is “no plan B” and Nicolas Sarkozy, the other candidate in the Republican primary, is himself under investigation for the funding of his 2012 election campaign.

If Mr Fillon pulled out and no one replaced him, then voters on the right of the spectrum would have the choice only between far-right candidate Marine Le Pen or centrist former Socialist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Fillon said he would not allow “the mad adventure of the extreme right or the continuation of ‘Hollandeism'”.

It is an exciting, unpredictable and hugely important election campaign – and it keeps on giving.

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