Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has launched his political comeback, standing for the leadership of his conservative party in what is almost certainly a stepping stone to another presidential bid in 2017.
Le Figaro, France’s leading conservative newspaper, reports that more than half of party members had voted in the leadership contest as of Saturday afternoon.
None of Sarkozy’s rivals 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 interim leaders of the party following a financial scandal that forced Jean-François Copé to step down.
Copé was a protégé of Sarkozy’s and a hardliner on immigration. Fillon and Juppé, by contrast, are more liberal.
Competing with the far right
Sarkozy, who lost the 2012 presidential election with 48 percent support against François Hollande, is seen by many conservatives as more able to compete with the far-right National Front.
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, but he also rejected the protectionist and anti-European platform of the Front.
“The fifth power in the world should not have to choose between the humiliating spectacle of today and total isolation,” he said.
Polls suggest Sarkozy could beat Le Pen in a presidential runoff whereas Le Pen would beat Hollande.