- Title: Front runner Fillon fights for the right in French primary race
- Date: 25th November 2016
- Summary: NICE, FRANCE (FILE - OCTOBER 15, 2016) (REUTERS) RIVAL CANDIDATE, ALAIN JUPPE, AND FILLON AT CEREMONY COMMEMORATING NICE ATTACKS
- Embargoed: 10th December 2016 10:14
- Keywords: Fillon presidential election primary conservative Juppe France
- Location: PARIS, LYON, NICE AND RAMBOUILLET, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, LYON, NICE AND RAMBOUILLET, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00459XZM87
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Front runner Francois Fillon's had reason to feel buoyant as the race for the right's nomination for the French presidency entered its final day of official campaigning on Friday (November 25).
With a solid lead of 16 percent in the first round and a snap poll declaring him the winner of the last TV debate on Thursday (November 24), the former prime minister who trailed his rivals in fourth place for months appeared to have turned his fortunes around.
Up against another former prime minister Alain Juppe who has focused on his unifying approach and broad appeal ahead of the second round on Sunday (November 27), Fillon has decided to pitch himself as a radical reformer proposing 500,000 public sector job cuts and an end to the 35-hour work week.
"Wrongly Alain Juppe thinks my project is too radical, too risky. Well I'm telling him that if we're not radical now, I wonder when we will be. I'm saying that if we don't take all the risks right now, I wonder when we'll take them," he told a rally in Lyon on Tuesday (November 22).
"He is being labelled a 'liberal', and his programme is said to be 'radical', but I think that in any case we don't have the choice anymore," supporter Jean-Pierre said.
Sixty-two-year-old Fillon is an economic liberal and admirer of late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but also more socially conservative than his rival, proposing changing the law governing adoption by gay couples, passed by the Socialist government of incumbent president Francois Hollande.
"I would put the family at the heart of all public policy. For me the family is a value, it's not a variable you use to make adjustments to budgets, and it's certainly not to be subjected to dangerous social experiments," he said to cheers from the crowd of 6,000 people in Lyon.
"(He defends) cultural values, values which protect the family, certain principles of, sorry to say it, but our Judaeo-Christian culture, even if I am not in a war of religions. There are things which are very important" one supporter Joelle said.
An IFOP-Fudicial survey published on Wednesday (November 24) showed Fillon winning the second round with 65 percent of votes against Juppe's 35 percent.
But the makeup of the electorate makes the final outcome hard to predict as the primaries are open to all voters prepared to pay a two euro fee and sign a charter of centre-right values.
Pollsters estimate that some 10 percent of first-round voters identified as left-wing, many participating to eliminate former president Nicolas Sarkozy from the race.
Many of the same voters, including Benjamin Savatofski, now say they are thinking of taking part in Sunday's ballot, this time to see off Fillon.
"For me, Fillon is an ultra-liberal. His measures are: fewer civil servants, 500,000 fewer civil servants, we're going to go from a 35 to a 39 hour week without being paid more, so for me he's someone who's very (economically) liberal, like in England," he said.
"I think that if there are lots of people on the left who vote in the primary for the right, we might be able to block Fillon," left-leaning voter Annie Benveniste said.
But the deputy director general of polling firm IFOP, Frederic Dabi, said before the debate on Thursday that the momentum was now with Fillon, particularly since after his defeat Sarkozy immediately backed his former premier.
"You can see what Alain Juppe's strategy is: make Francois Fillon look very right-wing, conservative, in the hands of the traditional Catholics and the far right, that won't be enough to bring the right-wing electorate back to him," Dabi told Reuters TV.
His foreign policy pronouncements, including a markedly softer tone regarding Russia amid simmering tensions between President Vladimir Putin and the West, have raised eyebrows in some quarters, including Berlin.
Polls show that whoever wins the nomination on Sunday stands a good chance of being elected to the presidency in May, with the left divided, doubts over the possible candidacy of the woefully unpopular Hollande and a resurgent far right led by Marine Le Pen.
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