Former Prime Minister Alain Juppé’s announcement Monday that he has decided “once and for all” not to enter the French presidential race makes it very likely that neither the center-left nor the center-right will have a candidate in the second-round runoff vote in May, an unprecedented development in modern French politics. Juppé lost a Republican Party primary to François Fillon, another former PM, in November, but supporters had been urging him to get back in the race as Fillon’s campaign has imploded over an ongoing corruption allegation. Fillon, who had billed himself as the candidate of morality and traditional values, allegedly arranged no-show jobs for his wife and two of his children, with French taxpayers picking up the bill, and faces possible corruption charges, but so far refuses to withdraw.
Fillon was once the favorite in the race and was likely to face the far-right Marine Le Pen in the second round. But since the scandal began to consume his campaign, he’s fallen back into third place. Juppé trashed his onetime rival in his announcement Monday, saying that Fillon “had a boulevard (to the presidency) in front of him,” but that his ham-handed response to the scandal had led him to a dead end.
Though he lost the primary, polls suggest Juppé was probably a stronger candidate for the general election: He’s more moderate than Fillon, a hard-line fiscal and social conservative, and would probably have been more effective at reaching out to centrist and left-wing voters in the name of stopping Le Pen. So why didn’t he want to jump in and save the day? Possibly because he has corruption issues of his own in the form of a conviction for misuse of public funds back in 2004, for which he received a suspended jail sentence. “I do not want to submit my family to reputation-destroyers,” he said. Meanwhile, the third candidate from the Republican primary, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, may still have to stand trial over allegations of illegal funding of his 2012 reelection campaign.