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Sliding polls greet Sarkozy's mid-term mark


Latest update : 2009-11-06

Half way through his five-year presidential term, Nicolas Sarkozy has sank to his lowest poll score since he took office. But analysts see no serious challenger to thwart his bid for re-election in 2012.

AFP - Sliding in the polls and battling dissent in his own camp, Nicolas Sarkozy is mired in mid-term blues, but analysts doubt his current woes will scupper the French president's chances of reelection.

Elected two and a half years ago on a pledge to shake up France, the right-winger sank this week to his lowest poll score since taking office, his image tarred by scandals and his reforms blunted by the global downturn.

Sarkozy won plaudits for his dynamic stint at the helm of the European Union last year, his shuttle diplomacy during the Russia-Georgia conflict and his perceived leadership among the Group of 20 on the economic crisis.

But his core campaign pledges to slash unemployment to five percent, fix state finances and kickstart growth, were thwarted by the downturn. Joblessness is now running at close to 10 percent and the public deficit is off the charts.

And as the president positions himself for reelection in 2012, his image has been badly eroded by two sensational scandals.

First there was a furore over a book describing his culture minister's past as a sex tourist. Sarkozy defended him, to the disgust of some core conservative supporters.

No sooner had that died down than Sarkozy's 23-year-son was caught in a nepotism row over an abortive bid to chair Paris' main business district.

Although the government closed ranks to defend Jean Sarkozy, many in the rank-and-file of his UMP party were dismayed by what they saw as an error of judgement, adding to a growing list of gripes against the president.

Already angry at a new green tax on fuel, championed by Sarkozy but resented by voters, the UMP saw a mini-revolt this week when two dozen senators refused to vote for plans to scrap a local business tax.

A meagre 39 percent of French voters declared themselved satisfied with Sarkozy in an IFOP poll released Wednesday, his lowest score since his election in May 2007, while 60 percent were unhappy with him.

Taking heart, the opposition Socialists insisted Tuesday that Sarkozy was "beatable" in 2012, as they released a point-by-point attack on his record.

"There is a serious political crisis, a crisis of confidence gripping the country," said the party's leader in parliament Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Socialists accuse Sarkozy of breaking a string of campaign pledges, to boost low incomes, make the state more impartial, boost the powers of parliament or promote a human rights-based foreign policy.

Critics also note that tough talk on law and order has failed to bring down violent crime, and that plans to get youths into work in the restive suburbs have yet to deliver.

But even without a record to defend, analysts doubt Sarkozy is in serious danger, either from within his own camp or from the left.

The Socialists are hamstrung by divisions after a series of poll defeats, unable to rally around a charismatic leader or build clear alliances with greens, the far-left or centrists.

And in spite of the grumbling, analyst Philippe Braud said it would "take a catastrophe for there to be an open revolt against him on the right."

Sarkozy's only declared right-wing rival is the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who hopes to relaunch his career if he is acquitted in January of plotting a smear campaign against Sarkozy.

And the UMP leader in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, has already said there will be no internal challenge his re-election.

"Nicolas Sarkozy's link with the French people has been deeply eroded," said the political analyst Stephane Rozes. "But he has a monopoly on the French political landscape."

Analyst Dominique Moisi of the Sciences Po institute in Paris agreed that "the French see no alternative."

A view shared by Antoine Sauvage, a student activist for Sarkozy's governing UMP party, who radiated confidence as he handed out leaflets in thin drizzle on a Paris market this week.

"Every point on his election manifesto has been voted or set in motion," said the 21-year-old who joined the UMP to carry Sarkozy to power and plans to campaign again in 2012 with the same "passion."

"No other president could say the same half way through his mandate," Sauvage said, citing reforms to the 35-hour work week, budget autonomy for universities or benefits to help people from welfare into work.

"He will get the job done, by 2012 or by 2017."

Date created : 2009-11-06


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