French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron received a big boost on Saturday when 9 center-right senators allied with his conservative rival, Francois Fillon, penned an op ed coming out in support of Macron.
Fillon, under investigation for corruption, was the front runner for president in the early stages of the campaign but has since been overtaken by National Front leader Marine Le Pen. The defection of the 9 senators from the UDI-UC party is an indication that the French establishment is coming together in order to defeat Le Pen in the second round of balloting. The first round will take place in April where no candidate is expected to receive 50% of the vote. The second round will be held in May and Macron is well positioned to win his head to head match up with Le Pen.
The nine senators from the UDI-UC party wrote a joint op-ed in the Journal du Dimanche weekly to say they would support Macron, a former minister in Socialist President Francois Hollande's government, because of his pro-European stance and bid to go beyond the Left-Right political divide.
"Emmanuel Macron's method is the right one," they wrote, adding: "He wants to bring people together ... and trigger a new dialogue between the French people and their representatives."
Fillon was the frontrunner for France's April and May presidential election until an investigative weekly reported in late January that he had paid his wife as his parliamentary assistant for work she did not do. He denies any wrongdoing but magistrates put him under investigation, a first for a presidential candidate in France.
Macron, an independent centrist who created his own En Marche! (Onwards!) party last year, is now topping the polls and is forecast to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an election run-off. The high number of undecided voters, however, means the ballot remains quite unpredictable.
On Saturday, Fillon's aides used an umbrella to shield him from eggs thrown by protesters in southwest France as the beleaguered conservative fell further behind Macron and Le Pen in opinion polls ahead of the April 23 first-round vote.
The opinion polls show Le Pen either tied or within one or two percentage points of Macron in the election's first round. But in head to head match ups with Macron in the second, decisive round, Le Pen is losing badly. However, an unprecedented number of French voters are still undecided, which leaves open the possibility that Le Pen could still make up ground.
If she does, it will be against a tidal wave of negative media reminiscent of what Donald Trump was forced to endure. The difference is that the French media is much more brutal than the US press, as they are protraying Le Pen as an out and out fascist.
But every terror attack and every wave of illegal immigrants bolsters support for Le Pen despite the overwhelmingly biased coverage. With so many voters undecided - and the surprising outcome of the American election still a possibility to be duplicated in France - Le Pen should not be counted out.