French conservative presidential candidate François Fillon has dropped sharply in popularity and faces elimination in the first round, a poll has found.
As the former frontrunner faces an ongoing scandal regarding his family’s employment, a poll for French newspaper Les Echos puts Mr Fillon on just 19 or 20 per cent, behind independent left winger Emmanuel Macron on 22 or 23 per cent.
Front National leader Marine Le Pen is still in front, however, with 26 or 27 per cent.
The poll comes as Mr Fillon, formerly favourite to be elected president, faces accusations he employed his wife in a “fake job” as a parliamentary aide, a position that earned her 830,000 euros over 15 years, according to latest reports.
Now the Canard Enchaine newspaper reports that their daughter, Marie, and son, Charles, also were hired by Fillon as his parliamentary aides when he was a senator from 2005 to 2007, earning 84,000 euros.
Mr Fillon and his wife are facing a probe by France’s national financial prosecutors for suspicion of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds in what has become known as “Penelopegate”, and were already separately questioned by investigators on Monday.
The scandal blows the French Presidential election wide open, with Emmanuel Macron, a former Economy minister in the Socialist government who quit to run as an independent, now rapidly gaining ground.
Anti-establishment populist Marine Le Pen maintains the lead in the preliminary round, but faces a tough contest in the run-off with left wing voters teaming up with establishment conservatives against her.
Earlier this week, Emmanuel Riviere at the Sofres pollster told Reuters: “A runoff without François Fillon is no longer ruled out.” He added that much of Mr Macron’s momentum was coming from the “Penelopegate” scandal.
Mr Macron is running on an unashamedly pro-EU, social liberal platform.