Former prime minister Alain Juppe said on Monday he had decided “once and for all” not to stand in France's presidential 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.
But Juppe offered no alternative plan less than 50 days from the April 23 vote.
“Francois Fillon... had a boulevard (to the presidency) in front of him,” Juppe said at a news conference. “The instigation of judicial investigations against him and his defense based on a supposed plot and political assassination has brought him to a dead end.”
Juppe's uncharacteristically harsh words for Fillon exposed the depth of frustration for France's mainstream political right which has never failed in postwar history to reach the second round of a presidential election.
Before the scandal over allegations he paid his wife taxpayers' money for little work as his parliamentary assistant erupted, Fillon had been favorite to return the right to power against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
But now his predicted poor showing in the first round would leave centrist Emmanuel Macron to fight out a runoff vote on May 7 with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Polls have shown that Juppe, who is more centrist than Thatcherite Fillon, would have made the second round comfortably.
They also indicate that Juppe would have beaten Le Pen more easily in the second round than Fillon - given his greater appeal to voters opposed to the National Front candidate and her anti-euro, anti-European Union, anti-immigration stance.
The euro fell on the news as investors saw the announcement as increasing Le Pen's electoral chances.