Former French prime minister Alain Juppe said on Monday that he had decided “once and for all” not to stand as an alternative candidate to Francois Fillon, if the rightwing nominee, who is embroiled in a fake jobs scandal, decides to withdraw his bid.
“I confirm for a final time that I will not be a candidate to be president of the republic,” Juppe, 71, told a news conference in Bordeaux, the western coastal city where he is mayor.
He also criticized Fillon for his defiance of the justice system and criticism of the media.
Fillon’s defense of denouncing a plot “has led him into a dead end,” Juppe said, lamenting: “What a waste!”
Recalling the November rightwing primary, when Fillon easily beat Juppe to the nomination, he said the result was “uncontested” and that he immediately threw his support behind his Republicans party colleague.
He said Fillon had “an open road” ahead of him to the presidency before he was put under investigation for allegations that he paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros from public funds with little work to show for it.
He said he did not think he could rally enough support behind a candidacy, adding: “It’s too late.”
Juppe noted that “part of the center” has deserted the Republicans, a reference to former Socialist economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who formed his own centrist movement and is now riding high in the polls.
Fillon’s poor showing would leave Macron to fight out the second round on May 7 with far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Polls have shown that Juppe as a candidate would have made the second round comfortably.
Earlier on Monday, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for Fillon and Juppe to meet with him in a bid to hammer out a solution to the crisis.
Sarkozy said on his Twitter feed that the aim of the meeting was to ensure a “dignified and credible way out from a situation which cannot last any longer and which is the source of deep concerns among French people”.