Sarkozy to quit politics if he loses re-election bid
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday that he would leave politics if he loses his re-election bid, and pointed out that his Socialist challenger, who leads in polls, has a worrying "dearth of experience" for such troubled times.
REUTERS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he would fight with everything he has to win a second term but will bow out of politics if he loses an April-May election.
Sarkozy, who is badly lagging Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls six weeks before the first round of voting, said Hollande's lack of ministerial or international experience was a problem at a time of economic turmoil.
"I worry when I look at the Socialist candidate's programme ... and I worry about this dearth of experience in such a troubled period. But if the French people do not put their faith in me, do you really think I would carry on in politics? The answer is no," Sarkozy told RMC radio.
Hollande widened his lead slightly this week, advancing 2 points to 30 percent support for the April 22 first round, while Sarkozy gained only 1 point to 28 percent. The survey, by pollster CSA, saw Hollande beating Sarkozy by 56 percent to 44 percent in a May 6 runoff.
"I will fight with all my strength to win your confidence, to protect and lead you and build a strong France, but if that is not your choice I will bow out, that's the way it is, and I will have had a great life in politics," he said.
Sarkozy said on a three-hour televised debate on Tuesday that he was not discouraged by his weak poll scores and that one his characteristics is that he never gives up.
But French media are reporting that his campaign team is starting to worry that Sarkozy's efforts to overcome a widespread dislike of his personal style and anger over three years of economic gloom are not working.
Campaign spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet - who was lambasted as out of touch after she was unable to tell a radio presenter the price of a Paris metro ticket - lamented this week that the race had descended into distracting polemic.
Presidential spokesman Frank Louvrier has been quoted by the daily Les Echos as saying that if Sarkozy's camp did not keep the focus squarely on debating ideas they were "sure to lose".
Sarkozy launched his campaign in mid-February, several weeks after Hollande, and has opted for a strategy of unveiling his ideas - such as a new minimum tax on company profits, making the unemployed sign up to training to get their benefits and holding policy referendums - week by week.
After a strong start that saw him trim the gap with Hollande by a few points, he suffered setbacks in his second week, including being jostled by left-wing militants while out on the campaign trail, and has now lost his initial bounce.
Meanwhile Hollande has consolidated his lead position after announcing a surprise 75 percent tax rate on annual income above 1 million euros, a move nearly two in three voters support.
On Thursday's radio show, Sarkozy proposed a new household fund for women abandoned by fathers of their children, a new renovation programme for city suburbs and said he would cut the number of lawmakers by 10 to 15 percent to trim public spending.
Sarkozy, whose main focus is on structural reform and tighter immigration rules, is expected to give his first real campaign overview at a big campaign rally on Sunday in the Paris suburb of Villepinte.