French President Emmanuel Macron has picked his widely-respected health minister to reinvigorate a campaign to win over Paris City Hall that fell apart when his previous candidate pulled out over a sexting scandal.
Less than a month before mayoral elections in which opinion polls expect Macron’s party to fare poorly, the president is keen to turn his fortunes around in the capital, where voters have given him good scores in the past.
His new candidate, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn, a doctor who has been leading France’s response to the coronavirus, told reporters that she is throwing herself into the race to win.
Buzyn, 57, has four weeks to try and make up ground in the most symbolic contest of nationwide municipal elections on March 15.
She replaces Macron confidant Benjamin Griveaux, who pulled out on Friday after intimate videos and private messages he allegedly sent to a third party were posted online.
Griveaux was already trailing in opinion polls, behind outgoing Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo, 60, and conservative challenger Rachida Dati, 54.
Griveaux is one of the “Macron boys” who helped propel the former investment banker into power in 2017.
Griveaux, who is married, was forced to give up after sexual images he sent to a woman were published online.
Russian dissident artist Pyotr Pavlensky has said that he leaked a video to expose hypocrisy”.
He said that Griveaux “is someone who constantly brings up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites his wife and children as an example”.
But he is doing the opposite,” Pavlensky told France’s Liberation daily.
Griveaux has not disputed that he sent the messages and the video.
Pavlensky and his girlfriend, who French media said was the recipient of Griveaux’s texts, were arrested on Saturday and were held for questioning yesterday over possible charges of privacy violation, the prosecutor’s office said.
The Russian artist is best known for works of performance art that included setting fire to doors at the headquarters of Russia’s state security agency and the Bank of France.
French politicians from all camps denounced the leak of private material, which many said constituted an unacceptable Americanisation of politics in France, where politicians’ private lives have long been considered off-limits.
But for Macron, the episode marks a new low in his effort to give the three-and-a-half year old “En Marche” (LREM, On the Move) party he created from scratch a sustainable local base.
Party officials have admitted that they expected a drubbing in the March 15-22 elections.
“It will go badly for En Marche, because that’s the election in which the political programme is the least important,” a senior figure in the party told Reuters.
The party has suffered from defections in parliament and has also failed to maintain discipline, with several lawmakers deciding to launch independent bids against the candidate chosen by the party’s decision-making committee.
The party was not yet formed when town and city councils were last elected in 2014, and needs local councillors to establish a lasting base around the country.
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