About 40 members of the French center right on Tuesday called on François Fillon to consider dropping out of the race for the presidency over a financial scandal they say has damaged his campaign beyond repair.
In the clearest sign yet that Fillon is losing party support, the elected officials from his Les Républicains party told him in parliament to find a “political solution” to his problems, which have resulted in his on-the-ground campaign nearly grinding to a halt.
Their rebellion capped a nightmarish three weeks for Fillon, who is battling to stay in the race amid allegations that he paid his wife and two children hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds for work they did not do or for which they were unqualified.
“We need to find a political solution that matches what is at stake because we can easily find ourselves in the absolutely incredible position where our political family would be absent from the [presidential election’s] second round and that is not acceptable,” said Les Républicains MP Alain Gest after dissenting conservatives and Fillon met at a dinner in Paris on Monday.
A party member briefed on the meeting and deliberations on Fillon’s political fate said the message to Fillon matched what Gest and others said after the dinner, adding the dissenters had gathered about 40 signatures from elected officials.
During the meeting Fillon fought back against arguments that he was too damaged to continue and urged party members to rally behind his campaign, arguing that no other candidate enjoyed the same legitimacy following his victory in a conservative primary election in November.
“I need you to help me. We are in this campaign and we can win it,” a journalist from Le Figaro quoted Fillon as telling the group of dissenting MPs. “I am harassed by the press and harassed by the judicial system. I don’t need on top of this to be harassed by parliament.”
His appeal blunted the internal assault — to a degree.
Le Figaro reported that Georges Fenech, the MP behind the initiative to address Fillon in parliament, decided at the last minute not to urge Fillon to call a meeting of the party’s senior leadership, which would have set in motion a formal debate on the viability of his campaign.