Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday recognized his defeat in the conservative nomination contest for the 2017 presidential election and threw his weight behind François Fillon, who was his prime minister in 2007-2012.
“I hold Alain Juppe in high esteem, but I feel closer to François Fillon’s political choices,” Sarkozy told supporters. “I will therefore vote for him in the second round of the primary,” he said.
“I have no bitterness, no sadness, and I wish all the best for my country, for you my fellow citizens, and for the one who will lead this country I love so much,” he added.
According to results based on 7,948 polling stations out of a total 10,229, Fillon was seen gathering 43.9 per cent of the votes, former prime minister Alain Juppe 27.9 per cent and Sarkozy 21.4 per cent, with the gap with Sarkozy widening from the first partial results.
Outsider now the front-runner
Fillon, the surprise front-runner after Sunday’s conservative primary ballot on a contender for next year’s presidential election, could be the closest thing his country has to a true economic and social conservative.
Last week, when opinion polls ranked him as an outsider, his proposal of market-oriented reforms went beyond what his rivals preferred in a country where the dirigiste state remains, even on the centre-right, a staple — unlike conservative and liberal positions in the U.S. or Britain.
Having won approximately 44 per cent of the first-round vote according to preliminary results, Fillon now enters a run-off next Sunday against Juppe. A Sunday night opinion poll after the first round vote said Fillon would win that contest.
Fillon eyes public sector job cuts
Fillon says he will get rid of 500,000 public sector jobs in five years, a proposal dismissed as implausible by Sarkozy and Juppe. Fillon argues that his cost-cutting plan is doable if people on the public payroll work 39 hours a week instead of 35 or less currently.
In a country where more than 230 people have been killed in Islamist militant attacks over the past two years, adversaries of Fillon have balked at proposing such deep cuts for fear of accusations that police staffing could suffer. Former boss Sarkozy stands accused of cutting 10,000 police jobs while president — a policy that the ruling Socialists have mostly reversed through new recruitment since the attacks.
Juppe, who bowed out after big strikes over planned welfare cuts and pension reform when prime minister in the mid-1990s, says Fillon simply cannot deliver on his cut-backs promise.
Polls have shown that Juppe would beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in a likely run-off vote for the presidency itself next May by attracting a broad coalition of centrists, the mainstream right and left wing voters keen to keep the anti-immigrant, eurosceptic Le Pen out of power.
But pollsters are trusted less since the surprise victory of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, and recent polls have in any case not tested a Fillon-Le Pen run-off, even though some political risk analysts say it would improve Le Pen’s chances of winning.