Alain Juppé has ruled out a French presidential bid, putting an end to speculation that the former prime minister could have replaced François Fillon, his party’s embattled centre-right nominee.
The decision ends intense party manoeuvring to try to persuade Mr Juppé to salvage the Republicans’ presidential campaign which has been battered by Mr Fillon’s deepening legal woes and dwindling support among the rightwing electorate and senior party figures.
“I am not in a position to unify the party”, Mr Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux, said in the city on Monday, adding that a “hard core of Republican activists had become radicalised”.
“Therefore I confirm that I will not be a candidate for the presidency.”
His announcement came as former president Nicolas Sarkozy sought to break the impasse over the centre-right’s campaign for the presidency, convening a meeting with Mr Fillon to convince him to stand down.
Mr Sarkozy called the meeting called to assess the Republican nominee’s chances of qualifying for the second-round vote for the presidency in May.
Mr Sarkozy said on Twitter he wanted to “find dignified and credible way out a situation that cannot go on”. “Given how serious the situation is, each one of us must to do everything we can to preserve unity.”
Apparently emboldened by a mass rally by his supporters in central Paris, Mr Fillon on Sunday night said he had no intention of withdrawing from the race.
Mr Fillon is expected to be placed under formal investigation — a step short of being charged — over claims he employed his wife and children in fictitious jobs as aides.
After vowing to fight on regardless of the judicial probe, the candidate has been haemorrhaging support in his own camp and party grandees had called for Mr Juppé to replace him.
Mr Sarkozy’s move, and Mr Juppé’s statement that he will not be a candidate, highlight the Republican party’s disarray less than 50 days before the first round of presidential elections.
“We are in a sort of impasse,” said Philippe Gosselin, a Republican MP. “The Fillon base is holding up well, but we also have a Republican majority that is totally split and is turning away from voting Fillon.”
Mr Juppé’s statement follows a weekend of intense discussions among senior party figures who are increasingly worried their candidate will not qualify for the second round. Such a defeat would be perceived as a humiliation after five years of a deeply unpopular Socialist presidency, and would threaten to break the party apart.
It would in all likelihood leave Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, and independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron to fight it out in the run-off on May 7.
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