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In Fillon, conservative voters choose a clear vision for France

Thomas Samson, AFP | Francois Fillon (C), candidate for the right-wing primaries ahead of the French 2017 presidential election, waves at the end of a speech during a campaign rally in Paris, on November 25, 2016.

By overwhelmingly backing former prime minister François Fillon, voters in the primary held by France's centre-right on Sunday opted for an economically liberal, socially conservative candidate whose vision for France leaves little ambiguity.


Any hope rival primary candidate Alain Juppé had of springing a surprise in the Les Républicains party run-off vote failed to come to fruition, with Fillon taking some 66.5 percent of the vote. If Fillon's strong performance in the first round of voting could be in part attributed to voters merely wanting to shut out Nicolas Sarkozy, his landslide victory over Juppé on Sunday left little room for doubt: Fillon's firmly right-wing platform had won the firm backing of the conservative electorate.

The "fight between one project and another", as the more moderate, centrist Juppé had called his showdown with Fillon, had been decided. Despite attacks by Juppé between the two rounds of voting that had depicted him as both "ultra conservative" and "ultra liberal" economically, Fillon had clearly prevailed.

The choice made by right-wing voters showed above all that they were no longer willing to wait for the famous "rupture" with the politics of the past promised by Sarkozy as he began his presidency almost 10 years ago. Left disappointed by Sarkozy's time in office and then pushed beyond their limits by almost five years of François Hollande's rule, they now long to see France's long-standing economic and social model radically transformed. As such, the more moderate reforms espoused by Juppé were never going to be enough in their eyes.

Avoiding the left's mistakes

With Fillon they believe they now finally have a candidate who promises to bring about the upheaval of the status quo that they seek and, above all, will follow through on his pledges. His resolve in pushing through pension reforms first as minister of social affairs in 2003 and then as prime minister in 2010 is proof of this: he is a politician who does not shrink from a fight with the unions and knows how to bring about change.

For the 2.9 million right-wing voters who cast their ballots for him on Sunday, this authoritativeness is his greatest strength, especially when he speaks on the issues of Islamic terrorism, immigration and delinquency. Always taking care in his speeches to subtly link these three subjects, Fillon has taken up the party line established by Sarkozy: the rejection of multiculturalism in favour of assimilation.

While he may not be guilty of the same divisive rhetoric as the former French president, Fillon's positions on these issues – on the right of the right and far from the Juppé's vision of the "rich diversity" of the French nation heralded by Juppé – go at least as far as Sarkozy's own. Again, the voters have been presented with the option of two opposing visions and given an unequivocal answer.

Consciously or unconsciously, conservative voters have perhaps learned the lessons of the 2011 primary held by the French left when Martine Aubry, vying for the presidential nomination with François Hollande, warned of the danger of her rival's lack of a clear vision for the country. Now, five years on, Hollande's approval rating is at a record low and his hopes of re-election, according to the pollsters, are slim to none.

The right can at least be reassured on this point: with Fillon, one thing they are certainly getting is clarity.

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