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Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-02-13

Experts anticipate that French President Nicolas Sarkozy will this week announce his candidacy to run in this spring’s presidential election. Why has he held off until now?

French leader Nicolas Sarkozy is widely expected to announce his candidature for May’s presidential election in the coming days.

On the surface, things are not looking good for incumbent president, with opinion polls showing Sarkozy trailing some ten points behind 57-year-old Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

Hollande was nominated as the Socialist Party’s candidate in a new US-style primary back in October 2011. The primary proved popular in France and fixed him in the mind of the French electorate as the main opposition candidate.

Not so Sarkozy, who has resolutely avoided all mention of his own candidacy to the frustration of his opponents, keen to let battle begin.

Some have accused him of holding off until the last minute so that he could make maximum use of his presidential exposure as an unofficial platform to promote himself.

Once he declares himself candidate, however, Sarkozy will have to separate his official line as president from that of presidential hopeful. Candidates are given strictly equal air time during the official campaigning period which ends on April 20.

Rallying the conservatives

With less than three months to go before the election, Sarkozy needs to begin getting his house in order now if he is to have any chance of winning, according to Mathieu Doiret, head of research at French pollster IPSOS.

“Sarkozy doesn’t really have any choice,” he told FRANCE 24. “He’s been holding out because he wanted and needed to be the president, rather than a presidential candidate, for as long as possible.

“But he is trailing behind Hollande in the polls and you can’t catch up a lead like that in a few weeks - he needs three months to do it. He has no choice than to put his candidacy forward now.”

Sarkozy certainly has much to achieve in the next three months. Doiret anticipates that the centre-right leader’s only hope for success will be to rally the country’s conservative voters behind him, something he achieved before the 2007 election.

But over the past five years, Sarkozy has been losing that critical support. Rising prices and concerns over immigration have turned many of his supporters to other conservative candidates, particularly Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front.

Referendums on foreigners and the unemployed

The last year has seen the government harden its stance on conservative issues including immigration.

To drive this home, Sarkozy told right-leaning daily Le Figaro Saturday that he wanted to hold referendums on unemployment rules and the status of foreigners living in France – inviting accusations from the left of populism.

“Sarkozy absolutely needs to get a critical mass of conservative support,” said Doiret. “If he can get 25% of the population intending to vote for him, then he will be in a position to fight Hollande effectively in the second round of the election.

“He has everything to fight for, and despite Hollande’s current poll lead, he is still in with a chance.”

This view was shared by Prime Minister and Sarkozy ally Francois Fillon, who told left-leaning daily Le Monde on Monday that the game was wide open.

“Nothing is a foregone conclusion,” he said. “The polls and the commentaries will change completely in the three weeks before the election once the public has seen the candidates go head to head.

“Nicolas Sarkozy has a very good understanding of the feeling in the country. He has a direct connection with the French people and in the course of the campaign he will find the right words and the right way to address the people directly.”

Fillon also rejected the charge that the campaign was drifting ever more to the right following Sarkozy’s promise to hold referendums on contentious issues like unemployment and the status of foreigners.

“If politicians fail to address these issues, the president has every right to circumvent the deadlock by asking the people what they think,” he said.


Date created : 2012-02-13

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