sexta-feira, 25 de novembro de 2016

François Fillon attacks 'Paris elite' before second-round primary

François Fillon attacks 'Paris elite' before second-round primary
Conservative who is favourite to win on Sunday dismisses ‘tiny microcosm who think they know everything’

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday 25 November 2016 16.11 GMT

François Fillon, the former French prime minister promising to introduce “electric shock” economic reform, has rounded off his campaign for the right’s presidential nomination by lashing out at what he called the small-minded liberal Paris elite who warned he was a dangerous social reactionary.

The socially conservative, rightwing Fillon – who remains favourite to beat the more moderate, centrist Alain Juppé in the final vote on Sunday – has complained of being depicted as a “medieval” retrograde. His campaign emphasised his Catholic family values in order to appeal to supporters on the religious right who oppose same-sex marriage and adoption rights introduced in France three years ago.

Pierre Bergé, the French businessman and partner of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, tweeted that a vote for Fillon was a vote for “reactionary France”, likening it to a return to the days of the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime. In a radio interview, Fillon slammed Bergé’s comments as “the ridiculous frenzy of a tiny microcosm who think they know everything and want to impose their vision”.

Although Fillon has vowed not to overturn the 2013 law introducing same-sex marriage, nor make any change to abortion law, he has promised to roll back certain parental rights for same-sex couples.

Fillon, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, has promised to slash 500,000 public sector jobs in five years, cut public spending, lower taxes and break the power of trade unions. He is regarded as having won the final TV debate on Thursday night against Juppé, which attracted a record audience of 8.5 million viewers.

Both candidates are former rightwing prime ministers who share a broadly similar economic programme to cut public spending and trim France’s large social welfare model. But they differ on scale. Fillon said reform must be quick and decisive. Juppé said structural reform needed to be done gently, accusing Fillon of going too far in a brutal, punishing manner.

Fillon has raised the question of identity politics, stressing that French national identity must be protected. “France is not a multicultural nation,” he said during the debate, adding that foreigners who came to France must assimilate. Juppé replied that he thought France’s identity came from its diversity.

The often heated final-round campaign between the two has also centred on foreign policy.

In a jibe at Fillon’s closeness to Vladimir Putin, Juppé said: “This must be the first presidential election in which the Russian president chooses his candidate – that slightly shocked me.” This week Putin praised Fillon as a “great professional” and “very principled person”.

Fillon, who is on first-name terms with Putin after they served as prime ministers in the same period, has advocated a stridently positive policy towards Russia, saying it is no threat, should be a partner in Syria and that European sanctions against Russia should be lifted.

“We need to be much firmer and clearer with Russia,” Juppé told the Ouest France newspaper in an interview this week, accusing his opponent of “over-indulging” Putin. Fillon said this was a caricature of his position and he simply wanted a more constructive relationship with Moscow.

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If Fillon does win the right’s nomination, he is expected to face the far-right Front National’s Marine le Pen in the presidential final round. Le Pen has also shown a pro-Russia stance, condemning western sanctions against Moscow.

Fillon and Juppé have also clashed on Syria, with the former saying the fight against Islamic State meant France should not rule out cooperating with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. During the TV debate, Juppé condemned Assad for the brutal repression of Syrians and said he “could in no case be seen to embody the future of the country”.

This Sunday’s final-round open primary vote to choose the right’s candidate marks the start of a new phase in the runup to France’s presidential election in April and May.

The spotlight will now fall on the French left. The deeply unpopular Socialist president, François Hollande, has yet to announce whether he will stand for re-election. His party is deeply divided and there are serious doubts among Socialists about Hollande’s chances of making it past the first round. His satisfaction rating in one poll was as low as 4%.

However, an Hollande bid for a second term seemed to edge closer this week after a slight fall in the number of unemployed people in October. Hollande has said he would only stand again if he could make a credible reduction in unemployment by the end of his mandate. France has been struggling with mass unemployment for decades. Hollande said the figures showed his economic policy was beginning to pay off.

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