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France

Pledging a 'strong France', Sarkozy vies for re-election

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-03-06

After weeks of playing up the suspense around his bid for a second term in office, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has unveiled a well-groomed re-election strategy, hitting the campaign trail with a pledge to defend a "strong France".

Putting an end to French politics' worst-kept secret, President Nicolas Sarkozy burst into France's presidential campaign this week with a new slogan, a brand new website and Twitter account, and a busy schedule of rallies across France.

The incumbent was due to hold his first campaign meeting in the Alpine city of Annecy on Thursday, a day after he officially announced on French television that he was a candidate in the country’s April 22 poll.

After lunch with local officials, and an afternoon stop at a cheese factory that makes the pungent Reblochon cheese, Sarkozy was scheduled to address supporters and members of his ruling UMP party. He was expected to unveil his new election manifesto at a major party rally in the city of Marseille on Sunday.

While there was no surprise about his intention to run for a second term, Sarkozy’s announcement was a key moment in an election contest already well underway. Jean-Pierre Bel, the president of the Socialist-led French Senate, joked it would only have been a shock if the incumbent had announced he was not a candidate.

France’s opposition Socialist Party, whose candidate François Hollande is leading opinion polls, had complained that Sarkozy was exploiting official visits to campaign. “I think it is good that we have entered a period where things will be clearer, where the rules of the game will be clearer,” Bell told the AFP news agency, “Until now, [Sarkozy] has allowed himself many privileges.”

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who has closely trailed Sarkozy in voter intention surveys, responded to the French president’s announcement with the aggressive criticism that has been characteristic of her campaign.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to make us forget his scandalous track record on unemployment, sinking purchasing power, rising insecurity and the explosion of immigration,” Le Pen told reporters after the televised announcement, “I thought he was very insincere.”

Carrying the brunt of the blame for France’s economic troubles and facing low approval ratings, the French president hopes to quickly gain ground over challengers. His battle to remain at the Elysée Palace received an early boost from former ministers Hervé Morin and Christine Boutin – both presidential hopefuls who quit the race this week to endorse the incumbent.

'Strong France'

Despite previous questions concerning Sarkozy’s intentions and rumours of a lack of enthusiasm for his potential bid, a well-planned and carefully coordinated re-election strategy was on display on Thursday.

His team simultaneously revealed the candidate’s campaign slogan and website a few hours after he made his candidacy official. The websites “lafranceforte.fr” and “NS2012.fr” went online on Wednesday night, emphasizing the catchphrase "La France forte", or "Strong France". Curiously, the same campaign slogan was used in 1975 by former centrist president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Earlier in the day a new Twitter account invited users to watch Sarkozy’s primetime interview on TF1 television, in which the president confirmed he was a candidate.

Sarkozy's arrival on the popular micro-blogging website was hailed on the other side of the Atlantic by the White House, which posted the message “Welcome to Twitter @NicolasSarkozy” with a picture of US President Barack Obama in a meeting with the French president in Washington.

'Loss from world stage'

Few French editorialists offered a positive review of Sarkozy’s television appearance, with many focusing on what they described as the daunting task ahead of the incumbent. “This entrance into the presidential race is probably [Sarkozy’s] last chance to win back public opinion. All other attempts in recent weeks have been absolutely unsuccessful,” wrote the left-leaning Liberation daily.

Le Figaro, a right-wing newspaper widely viewed as close to Sarkozy’s government, was more forgiving: “It will be necessary to review [France’s] competitiveness, its social services system, its public spending – everything that François Hollande does not speak about and that Nicolas Sarkozy will lay on the table before the first round [of the election].”

British papers were also quick to weigh in on the election after Sarkozy’s announcement. "Britain has had many disputes with President Sarkozy, not least his obsession with the introduction of a financial transactions tax," The Times wrote, before praising the French leader's strong response to the unrest in Libya last year. "For all his flaws, Mr Sarkozy would be a loss from the world stage,” the daily concluded.

The left-of-centre Independent newspaper echoed sentiments in the French press, highlighting that despite being "a powerful campaigner", Sarkozy faced “the greatest uphill battle of any incumbent French leader of recent times.”

Date created : 2012-02-16

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