By picking Benoît Hamon, a relatively inexperienced far-leftist, over the reformer Manuel Valls on Sunday to lead the French Socialist Party into the elections in April and May, the left may have thrown away what little chance it had of retaining the presidency.
Emmanuel Macron must be smiling. The defeat of his former boss could have hardly come at a better moment for the former economy minister, who is running for president independently.
Earlier this week, it emerged that his Republican opponent, François Fillon, had paid his wife around €500,000 from parliamentary funds over a period of eight years for an assistant’s job when it is unclear she did the work.
Fillon maintains the couple did nothing wrong and said that, “Without the work my wife carried out, I would not be where I am now.”
But voters don’t seem to be persuaded. An Odoxa poll shows that only 38 percent still have confidence in Fillon — a drop of 16 points from a poll carried out in November by Ifop-Fiducial.
Fillon has threatened to abandon his presidential ambitions if he and his wife are placed under formal investigation.
That would allow the Republicans to replace him, perhaps with Fillon’s primary rival, Alain Juppé, who would stand a good chance of winning the presidency in his own right.
The best candidate for reform
But if Fillon stays in the race and questions about his trustworthiness linger, it could convince reform-minded voters to throw their support behind Macron instead.
Both Fillon and Macron are calling for liberal economic reforms.
Valls, as prime minister, started liberalizing the French economy, but he ran into strong opposition from the left of the Socialist Party and affiliated trade unions.
Hamon rejects looser labor laws and proposes to introduce a universal basic income.
Only two candidates will qualify for the presidential runoff in May. The assumption is that Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front national will secure one of those spots. Her support is in the mid-20s. So is Fillon’s. Macron has so far struggled to break 20 percent support in the surveys, but that could change if center-left voters abandon the Socialists.