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Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-05-04

While refusing to confirm if he will seek re-election in 2012, President Nicolas Sarkozy has hinted at his candidacy in a long interview with the respected L’Express magazine that sets the political tone for his future campaign.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy put his re-election campaign machine into motion this week, strongly hinting at his candidacy during an interview with a French weekly that was published on Wednesday.

In a long Q&A session with the popular L’Express magazine, which covered both Sarkozy’s international preoccupations and controversial domestic reforms, the French president refused to directly answer if he would be a candidate in next year’s presidential elections.

However, when asked to respond to foreign minister Alain Juppe’s comment that Sarkozy’s re-election bid was an “open secret”, the president said he “appreciated [Juppe’s] competence” and said the minister was “a credible man who says valid things”.

With less than 11 months before the presidential vote, only a handful of political figures, such as former Socialist Party leader François Hollande, have announced their intention to run for president. The French are now growing impatient to hear more from who they already consider to be the main candidates: IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French president is facing a double challenge that some analysts think has made it virtually impossible for him to win in 2012: An almost stagnant economy that was not enviable even before the 2008 economic crisis, and approval ratings that have tanked to between 28% and 30% according to various opinion polls.

“None of his predecessors had such a bad standing in pubic opinion,” L’Express reminded readers in a preamble to an interview that demonstrated that Sarkozy is still full of ambition.

Blame the crisis

L’Express’ interview revisited Sarkozy’s decisions, many controversial, during his four years in power. It also hit on the domestic issues that promise to be central to next year’s race for the Elysée Palace.

Sarkozy defended the austerity measures he has presided over, including the unpopular pension reform that saw the retirement age raised by three years to 63, as well as the elimination of 150,000 government jobs.

“The problem, especially in the education system, is not the quantity of civil servants, but the quality of their salaries and training, as well as redefining their mission,” Sarkozy said, before adding “that will be a fine debate for the next presidential race.”

He played down the surge of the anti-immigration National Front (FN) under the leadership of Marine Le Pen. Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party suffered significant losses in recent local elections, ceding ground to the main opposition Socialists as conservative voters shifted support to FN candidates.

“In the first round, because it doesn’t count, some of our citizens feel they can vote for the FN to show their dissatisfaction,” Sarkozy conceded. “However, we have to realise that never in the history of the world, since 1945, has there been a crisis like the one we have known.”

The economic crisis’ role in tying his hands, as Sarkozy claims, figured prominently in the interview.

Sarkozy won the 2007 presidential race by appealing to voters who traditionally vote for the far-right, but especially by convincing the French that he would boost their purchasing power. It is for this campaign promise in particular that he is haunted today.

In L’Express, Sarkozy pre-empted that criticism. “Even on the subject of purchasing power, at the risk of startling you, the results are encouraging,” the president argued by pointing to figures from the national institute for statistics.

Besides offering a few of the potential sound bites of the next presidential race, such as “Let’s not call it 'austerity', it’s 'reason'”, Sarkozy also showed himself to be in the campaign spirit by taking some early jabs at his Socialist opponents.

Hitting back at Fracois Hollande for suggesting last week that he was an abnormal president, Sarkozy said: “[The presidency] is not a job that’s [normal]. My job is to raise the level of the debate. There are so many out there that lower it.”

Date created : 2011-05-04


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