Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen looks likely to win the first round of France's April elections as her main rival Francois Fillon struggles to shake off scandal.
Fillon, a former prime minister, had been the establishment favourite to buttress Le Pen's populism. However, the Republican candidate, who had presented himself as fiscally responsible and transparent, has become overwhelmed by accusations his family was given fake jobs and paid hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers' money.
A poll put in the field by Odoxa for France Info on Friday (10 February) has shown seven out of 10 French voters want Fillon to pull out of the race. For a candidate to step down at this point in the campaign would be unprecedented in France.
Fillon has apologised for employing his family but denied any wrongdoing.
"Being courageous in politics means admitting your mistakes. Using your family members as parliamentary assistants is a perfectly legal practice, but what was acceptable in the past is no longer acceptable" the former Prime Minister said in a speech on 7 February.
One day later further information concerning the fake jobs scandal emerged. Le Canard Enchaine which has published a series of stories on Fillon and his family since January alleged Fillon's wife Penelope was paid €45,000 (£38,000, $48,000) in severance for work she never did.
The €45,000 in severance paid to UK-born Penelope Fillon was given in addition to €830,000 she was paid as a legislative aid. Testimony from a number of former employees in Fillon's office, as well as Penelope's own answers given in previous interviews, have been given as evidence she never worked for her husband and essentially was paid for a "fake" job.
The pair's two children also reportedly earned €84,000 between them from 2005-2007.
As Fillon's popularity has waned polls suggest Fillon may be eliminated in the first round of voting in April's election, sparking a likely run-off between centrist Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen.
Despite her robust support, Le Pen remains unlikely to win in a French presidential run-off. Under the system the two candidates with the largest share of the votes face each other in a second round against each other guaranteeing the president a majority and a mandate to govern. It is believed Le Pen, whose populist policies are deeply divisive, would unite all opposition against her in such a scenario.