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Ex-president Sarkozy announces return to French politics

© AFP/Eric Feferberg. Sarkozy speaks after losing his re-election bid, May 6, 2012.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-09-20

France's former president Nicolas Sarkozy announced his return to politics in a statement on his Facebook page on Friday, saying he would seek the leadership of his UMP party in a move that could position him for a 2017 presidential bid.

“I am a candidate for the presidency of my political family,” Sarkozy said.

The announcement ends months of local media speculation that Sarkozy, 59, would someday return to politics after his 2012 defeat to Socialist François Hollande in 2012.

A divisive figure reviled by many left-wing voters, Sarkozy is seen by his supporters as the politician with the best chance of rallying the fractured centre-right UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party to a presidential victory in 2017.

But any political comeback could be undermined by a series of legal troubles Sarkozy is facing.

Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation in July over corruption allegations. Investigators are seeking to establish whether Sarkozy, with the help of his lawyer, attempted to pervert the course of justice by seeking to obtain inside information about a probe into possible misdeeds in the financing of his 2007 election campaign.

Investigators suspect that Sarkozy was tipped off that his mobile phone had been tapped by judges looking into allegations that his campaign had been financed in part by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy has denied the claims that he received up to €50 million ($70 million at the time) from Gaddafi. Judges last year obtained the unprecedented authorisation to tap the phones of a former president in connection with the investigation, which is ongoing.

Sarkozy's comeback may also be complicated by the announcement last month that veteran French politician Alain Juppé, who once served as Sarkozy's foreign minister, would also be a contender for the UMP presidential nomination in 2017.

President ‘Bling Bling’

Sarkozy has always been something of an anomaly in the normally staid world of French politics. The son of a Hungarian aristocrat who immigrated to France, Nicolas Sarkozy de Nagy-Bosca arrived on the political scene as a town mayor at 28 before becoming an MP at 34 and then a minister at 38.

He won the presidency at only 52 and was initially seen as a much-needed breath of dynamism, making a splash on the international scene and wooing the corporate world. Former president and Sarkozy mentor Jacques Chirac once said that he "doesn't doubt anything, especially not himself".

But Sarkozy broke a longstanding taboo of French politics by putting his private life on display. His second wife, Cécilia, filed for divorce while he was campaigning for the presidency in 2007. Soon after, he wooed and wed Italian supermodel and singer Carla Bruni.

He came to be known for his "bling-bling" style, throwing a champagne-soaked election night party at a glitzy Champs Elysées restaurant and holidaying on a yacht that some French media said belonged to industrialist Vincent Bolloré, one of the richest men in France.

But these antics began to provoke outrage in France as job losses mounted and the European debt crisis became entrenched. As France's economy floundered amid the wider eurozone economic crisis, Sarkozy's image took a beating.

Hollande, a mild-mannered Socialist party apparatchik, seemed the perfect antidote two years ago when he successfully undermined Sarkozy’s re-election bid. But Hollande has since run into his own problems for failing to turn around the struggling French economy, resulting in his approval rating dropping lower than Sarkozy’s ever did.

Compounding Hollande's troubles is a recently published memoir by his estranged former partner Valérie Trierweiler. In her now-bestselling book she says France’s Socialist leader secretly despises the poor, contemptuously calling them the "toothless". Hollande has denied her claims.

With Hollande so deeply unpopular, the UMP may have a good chance at stealing back the presidency in 2017.

But many in France still doubt whether Sarkozy is the candidate to do it.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)


Date created : 2014-09-19


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