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* Vote in Chartres has reflected result in last four
* Fillon scandal, frustration at mainstream leaves race wide
* More than half of those surveyed by Reuters undecided on
* Chartres is white-collar, affluent city
By Patrick Vignal
CHARTRES, France, Feb 9 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
and Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk
as local companies. It should be a fertile ground for
centre-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
In a Reuters poll of 100 people in Chartres city centre,
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
"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
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
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 favourites 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
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.
For a graphic on the Reuters poll: tmsnrt.rs/2kras5j
For a photo essay: reut.rs/2k3TE0J
For an online video: reut.rs/2kqsmT3
The high level of uncertainty in Chartres underlines how
wide open the presidential race remains. It also points to the
disaffection many voters feel towards the political elite.
"People are becoming less and less interested in politics,"
said Sebastien Renault, a 35-year-old florist. "It's a world of
sharks out there, one eating the other."
It is a sentiment that will worry the main political
parties, especially in a place where unemployment runs almost
two points below the national average of nearly 10 percent, and
a median annual salary of 30,000 euros places it in the top 10
for cities of its small size.
"Like France, Chartres is fed up with the traditional
political system but it's not only linked with the recent
affairs," said Mayor Jean-Pierre Gorges.
"It's just that the situation in this country has been
deteriorating for the past 40 years. Almost everybody has
somebody in his family who is out of work."
France's outgoing president, Francois Hollande, was elected
in 2012 on a promise to create jobs, winning the hearts of
socialists by declaring banks to be his "main enemy" and
pledging extra taxes for millionaires.
But he later launched reforms -- including cutting corporate
taxes and legislation to make it easier for companies to hire
and fire -- that traditional socialists viewed as a betrayal of
Now it is the anti-European Union Le Pen who rails against
free-trade who is pitching herself as the true defender of
French workers' interests.
Against this backdrop, some in the National Front are
optimistic the party will get a boost from the Fillon scandal.
"I think all of this clearly plays in Marine's favour," said
Aleksandar Nikolic, the youthful head of the National Front's
Nikolic expressed surprise that immigration and security
ranked low among the concerns of those polled by Reuters.
"When we ask the people here what their main concerns are,
security and immigration clearly come first," he said.
(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Johnny
Cotton; Editing by Richard Lough)