PARIS, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- French conservative contender Francois Fillon, the front-runner for the Elysee Palace until last week, has lost steam following a scandal of paying his wife and children hefty salaries for fake jobs.
An Elabe poll released Wednesday showed that Fillon is trailing behind the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.
For the first round of the presidential election scheduled for April 23, Fillon is expected to collect 20 percent of the vote, down by six points from a previous survey, according to the Elabe poll.
In a further blow to the center-right nominee, more than three quarters of French voters were not convinced by his defense over the scandal, according to a separate survey.
Le Canard Enchaine, a French satirical weekly, reported last week that Fillon had paid his wife and two of his five children about 1 million euros (1.08 million U.S. dollars) for the work as parliamentary assistants that they didn't do.
"The damage to his image is real and indisputable. He had made honesty the cornerstone of his political personality and his presidential campaign," said Thierry Arnaud, a political analyst at BFMTV news channel.
With a preliminary inquiry gathering pace and the election approaching, some wonder whether the conservatives need a "Plan B" without Fillon.
Conservative Senator Alain Houpert believed that Fillon had to drop his candidacy.
"We must not leave the future of the country suspended to a court decision. We fear if this affair continues to splatter the party, its candidate risks losing," he told Public Senat Television.
Georges Fenech, a right-wing lawmaker, also called on Fillon to step down. "I'm speaking aloud about what many lawmakers think with a low voice," Fenech said.
Projecting himself as an honest and morally irreproachable contender, Fillon secured a landslide victory over Alain Juppe in the right-wing primary in November 2016.
Fillon's scandal has put the conservatives into a dilemma as they will either continue to have an unpopular candidate or they'll have to install a new one less than three months before the election.
However, for the embattled Fillon, the option of stepping down is not on the table.
"There's one thing I can say, I will fight them (allegations) to the end, I will be a candidate for this presidential election," Fillon told entrepreneurs in Paris.
He also asked conservative lawmakers to show solidarity and hold on for 15 days until financial investigators unveil the outcome of the preliminary inquiry into the fake-job allegations.
Under French law, it's legal for lawmakers to hire family members as assistants, but it's illegal to pay them for fictitious jobs.