In French bellwether city, scandal deepens election uncertainty

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Chartres has in past decades been a bellwether for France’s presidential elections, but ahead of this spring’s poll the signal from this white-collar city appears to be blurred by a scandal that has fed into a wave of anti-establishment feeling.
In at least the past four elections, the affluent city famous for its towering thirteenth century gothic cathedral has voted in close alignment with the final national result.
Lying in the Beauce plain 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Paris, Chartres counts perfume makers including Guerlain (LVMH.PA) and Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) as local companies. It should be a fertile ground for center-right challenger Francois Fillon.
The 62-year-old former prime minister’s clean-cut, clean-living image had held appeal in Chartres, run for over 15 years by a conservative mayor.
But embarrassing revelations that his family for years benefited from large parliamentary salaries have hurt that image.
In a Reuters poll of 100 people in Chartres city center, more than half said their vote was undecided. The survey intends to provide a snapshot of views in a single location and is not intended to reflect nationwide opinions.
For many in Chartres, the Fillon debacle was a factor behind their indecision.
“We are living at a time when the word integrity is becoming meaningless for our politicians. We’ve had some blatant examples in the past week”, 86-year-old Maurice Beauzac told a Reuters multimedia team.
Fillon looked a shoo-in for the Elysee palace before the scandal surfaced two weeks ago, campaigning on a free-market platform to reduce regulation and haul down the stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Now opinion polls suggest he will crash out in the first round. So too will the candidate of the ruling Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, the surveys indicate, as mainstream parties battle against a rising tide of populism across Europe.
The favorites to reach the runoff vote on May 7 are the far-right National Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, and independent challenger Emmanuel Macron who has yet to release a full manifesto.
Among those polled by Reuters in Chartres, 25 percent said unemployment was their number one concern, while 19 percent named a lack of integrity, or honesty, as their main worry.

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