Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin has unveiled his own “political project” for France, setting the stage for a showdown with President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of next year's presidential election.
France’s former prime minister Dominique de Villepin launched a fresh challenge to the ruling party of President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, unveiling a political platform for his new party, which he described as a “credible alternative for the French people.”
Villepin stopped short of formally announcing his intention to run in next year’s presidential election at a press conference in Paris, though acknowledging that his so-called “citizen project” was a rational first step towards a future candidacy.
A former member of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, Villepin split from the group after founding République solidaire (loosely translated as United Republic) last June and is considered by many to be President Sarkozy’s political arch-enemy.
While Sarkozy has not officially said if he will stand for re-election in the 2012 presidential election, he is widely expectedly to be the candidate for the UMP party, which has been at the helm of the country since 1995.
That continuity – the UMP’s very reason for existing – appears in jeopardy with less than 12 months to go before the French choose a new president.
The centre-right party has recently suffered heavy losses at the polls as conservative voters expressed their disenchantment with Sarkozy’s government by shifting support to the far-right National Front (FN).
Now it is the party’s centrist constituency that is threatening to jump ship, with the likes of Villepin threatening to turn party dissent into independent election campaigns.
Moving from the centre to the fence
In a March cover story the French magazine Nouvel Observateur asked if Nicolas Sarkozy had not already lost the all-important 2012 vote given his struggle to bridge diverging ideologies within the UMP.
The more liberal and centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) and the Gaullist-conservative Rally for the Republic (RPR) joined forces in 2002 with the single-minded objective of backing Jacques Chirac’s bid for the presidency.
The presentation of Villepin’s political manifesto follows last week’s announcement by former ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo that he was turning in his UMP card.
“We are witnessing a decomposition of the UMP’s governing model. It no longer stands on its own,” said Michel Wieviorka, a sociologist who writes extensively about French politics.
Like Villepin, Jean-Louis Borloo represents the more centrist branch of the UMP political family. But while Villepin is now known mostly for his rivalry with Sarkozy, Borloo was considered a close ally until recently and was even tipped to become France's prime minister earlier this year.
Borloo has also stopped short of announcing his candidacy for 2012. “The stakes are also high for [Villepin and Borloo],” explained Wieviorka. “If they run for president they will certainly weaken Sarkozy, with the risk that the UMP may not make it to the second round [of the elections]. If that happens, they will forever be called traitors.”
For Wieviorka, the fence-sitting position Borloo and Villepin have adopted is “delicate” but “allows room for negotiation”. However, the chances of rebuilding the divided UMP house appear to be dwindling.
On Wednesday, Sarkozy told UMP lawmakers that there were “innumerable cemeteries” where “those who had presidential projects” were buried. Commenting on that statement on Thursday, Dominique de Villepin sarcastically told France Info radio that he wondered if Sarkozy was in fact not speaking about himself.
Date created : 2011-04-14