The first round of the French presidential election will take place this Sunday, April 23, following a campaign season punctuated by corruption scandals. While French voters have little trust in politicians, according to the latest polls, about 40 percents of voters still plan to support candidates who have allegedly abused their power for financial gain.
As reflected in a survey published earlier this month, 74 percent of French voters believe that most politicians are corrupt; 85 percent believe that politicians act mostly to further their own personal interests. Nonetheless, Marine Le Pen (Front National) and François Fillon (Les Républicains), both of whom are involved in on-going corruption scandals, remain respectively second and third for president, behind Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!).
Since 2014, Marine Le Pen’s far-right populist party, the Front National, has been under criminal court investigation for lying about employing twenty-nine assistants for its representatives at the European Parliament, creating at least €7.5 million in losses for European taxpayers. One of these « assistants » was none other than Le Pen’s bodyguard. Le Pen is also implicated in five other lawsuits, including one related to alleged fraudulent campaign financing and another linked to Russian loans.
For his part, Fillon has been accused of involvement in a fictitious employment scheme nicknamed “Penelopegate” after his wife, Penelope Fillon. The center-right candidate allegedly paid his wife and children almost €1 million in public funds for work they likely never did. Fillon’s reputation has also been tainted by reports that he has received €50,000 worth of luxury suits and clothing from a wealthy donor since 2012.
Even more worrying than its willingness to elect corrupt candidates, a large portion of the French electorate also seems willing to tolerate a blatant disregard for the judicial system, as well as honesty itself, by its politicians.
Le Pen, for example, has refused to reimburse the European Parliament for €298,392 connected to the fake parliamentary assistants scandal. After being summoned twice, Le Pen refused to appear in front of judges about the matter, invoking her immunity as an EU lawmaker. Ironically, the far-right candidate has based her campaign, in part, on targeting a profiteering “elite” and promising to be tough-on-crime.
For his campaign, Fillon has painted himself as an honest politician who will fight corruption. In January, during an interview, he insisted he would not remain in the presidential race, if he was indicted for alleged misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and more. Unsurprisingly, Fillon did not step aside, after a formal investigation was finally launched last month.
Instead of admitting their faults, both Le Pen and Fillon have chosen to portray themselves as victims of schemes to bring them down. Fillon has spoken about “a manhunt” against him and even accused French President François Holland of illegally intercepting information about him and leaking it to the press. For her part, Le Pen has pointed her finger at her political adversaries and “the system.” Both candidates also insist the media is working against them.
Being investigated for abuses of power should be enough to dissuade voters from electing Fillon or Le Pen. If either candidate becomes president, the French people will have no one to blame but themselves, when their new president, inevitably, continues his or her corrupt behavior.