It had been staged carefully. For hours, Francois Fillon had kept the French press in a state of excitement. In Paris, Republican Party leaders gathered, and resignation rumors were doing the rounds. But every dramatist could have told the presidential candidate that this kind of strategy should always be avoided: stirring up great expectations, then sending the audience back home again without a sensation. For Fillon does not step down, no - he won't give in and fight to the end. Oh, ok.
Fillon - a victim?
This stage play stars Francois Fillon in his role as Persecuted Innocence: in two weeks' time, he is to appear in front of investigating magistrates due to the "fake jobs" affair involving his wife and children. They received a salary of about 900,000 euros ($947,000), paid out of state coffers. This is legal, but only if they really worked for the government. The current tenacious persecution by the judiciary amounted to his "political assassination", complained the presidential candidate. This is strong language, describing a scandal which may not be straightforward, but dubious in any case.
Up to now, the judiciary's investigation of the incident failed - according to French media reports - to produce concrete evidence of parliamentary work completed by Penelope Fillon. She did not carry parliament credentials, she did not have a mail box, she did not have a phone - nothing. The presidential candidate had stated that his wife had worked for him at home. And apparently he believes that's a sufficient explanation.
Fillon calls the ongoing investigation by the judiciary political persecution, not shying away from stepped-up rhetoric: the future of democracy was at stake. Resistance had to be put up. Resistance - against what? Against the French judiciary which, by and large, performs its duties in accordance with the rule of law, like everywhere else in Western Europe?
Francois Fillon is not a victim of the judiciary. He is a victim of his own greed for money. Someone who, for years, sorts their next-of-kin out with hundreds of thousands of public money under dubious circumstances should make a restrained and modest public appearance. In any case, such a person is unsuitable as the hero of a resistance opera which assigns the villain's role to the judges.
Attacking the judiciary is out of the question
The conservative presidential candidate ultimately disqualifies himself due to his unfounded accusations against the judicial system. Marine Le Pen has to answer for her actions - alleged misuse of EU funds - as well. What makes Francois Fillon think that allegations against him must not be subject to an investigation?
This is a reflection of the arrogance displayed by France's politicians. Fillon depicts his country as a banana republic, following a fatal trend: bashing the judiciary for political reasons. US President Donald Trump did the same when he mentioned the "so-called judges" who lifted his travel ban. A British newspaper did it when it called senior judges "enemies of the people", because their Brexit verdict was unpopular in the newsroom.
Odds against "Republicans"
For sure, the "Republicans" should have kicked out Francois Fillon long ago. For weeks, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron has left the conservative trailing behind in opinion polls. Hence, it is possible that Macron will face far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off election. In the wake of this ignoble public appearance, serious doubts must be cast on Francois Fillon's disposition. It's unlikely that his popularity among voters has soared after today's press conference - on the contrary. And if anyone is guilty of afflicting damage to democracy, it's the conservative presidential candidate himself.