France’s Sarkozy Starts Political Comeback

The former president is almost certain to win the leadership of his party in an internal election.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni arrive at 10 Downing Street in London, England, June 18, 2010
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni arrive at 10 Downing Street in London, England, June 18, 2010 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy started his political comeback Friday, standing for the leadership of his conservative party in what is almost certainly a stepping stone to another presidential bid in 2017.

According to Le Figaro, France’s leading conservative newspaper, more than half of party members had voted in the leadership contest by Saturday afternoon. Online polls were due to close Saturday night.

None of Sarkozy’s strongest opponents are on the ballot. Neither François Fillon, a centrist who served as Sarkozy’s prime minister from 2007 to 2012, nor Alain Juppé, one of President Jacques Chirac’s premiers, are standing for the leadership of the Union pour un mouvement populaire. They are currently leading the party as part of a triumvirate with another former prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, that was asked to take over after a financial scandal forced the former party president, Jean-François Copé, to resign.

Copé was a protégé of Sarkozy’s and a hardliner on immigration issues. Fillon and Juppé, by contrast, are considered more liberal.

Sarkozy, who lost the 2012 presidential election with 48 percent support against the Socialist Party’s François Hollande, is seen by many conservatives as more able to compete with the far-right Front national. The party, led by Marine Le Pen, defeated the conservatives in the European Parliament elections this summer, winning a quarter of the votes against 21 percent for the mainstream right.

In a television interview last month, Sarkozy lamented France’s “humiliation” under Hollande’s leadership but also rejected the protectionist and anti-European platform of the Front national. “The fifth power in the world should not have to choose between the humiliating spectacle of today and total isolation,” he said.

France is the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Polls suggest Sarkozy could beat Le Pen in a hypothetical runoff election against the incumbent whereas the nationalist would beat Hollande.

Voters appear to have lost patience with Hollande’s inability to tackle low growth and high unemployment. No French leader since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958 has been less popular than he is now.

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