Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron cemented his status as favourite to win the French presidency on Friday as pressure mounted on his conservative rival, Francois Fillon, to pull out because of a deepening financial scandal.
For the first time since the line-up of candidates became clear, an Oxoda poll showed Macron finishing ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the opening round. That came a day after he promised a blend of fiscal discipline and stimulus to strengthen a feeble economic recovery.
As former investment banker Macron’s campaign gained momentum, Fillon’s camp was mired in a crisis of confidence after a string of resignations among his close advisers and backers.
His campaign chief, Patrick Stefanini, and his chief spokesman, Thierry Solere, both quit on Friday, while centre-right party UDI also withdrew its support.
The Odoxa poll also showed that if Fillon were to step down and be replaced by another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, it would be Juppe winning the first round, with Le Pen eliminated
A source in Juppe’s entourage said the 71-year-old – who lost to Fillon in the November primaries – was “ready to take part in the search for a solution”.
Juppe, himself convicted in 2004 for misuse of public funds, has until now ruled out a comeback. “No is no,” he tweeted last month.
Veteran centrist Francois Bayrou, who initially backed Juppe before deciding last month to endorse Macron, told France 3 television he would stick with Macron if Juppe replaced Fillon, according to extracts of an interview to be shown on Sunday.
The Odoxa poll put Macron on 27 percent in the first round on April 23 with Le Pen on 25.5 percent and Fillon on 19. Le Pen has consistently led first-round polls this year.
In a scenario where Juppe stood in Fillon’s place, Odoxa put Juppe in front on 26.5, with Macron on 25 and Le Pen out of the contest on 24 percent.
Daily voter surveys have consistently shown any candidate defeating Le Pen, who promises to pull France out of the euro and hold a referendum on European Union membership, in a May 7 runoff.
A separate poll by Opinionway maintained Le Pen’s first-round lead.
Read more: Reuters.