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Support for Sarkozy hits record low

One year ahead of legislative and presidential elections, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s approval rating stands at a mere 20%.


Despite his leadership role in two foreign military campaigns, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's popularity has hit rock bottom while his party is facing a split, merely a year before the 2012 presidential and legislative elections.

According to a ViaVoice poll published in the French daily Libération on Monday, only 23% of those questioned want to see him re-elected to the Elysée Palace.

His overall approval rating, according to the Harris Interactive survey, published Monday in Le Parisien, is floundering at 20%.

These poor showings are likely to be aggravated by increasing divisions in Sarkozy's ruling party, in the wake of former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo's announcement last week that he is withdrawing from the ruling UMP coalition. Borloo, the leader of the centre-right Parti Radical, said he is likely to run in next year’s presidential race.

He was joined by former sports minister Rama Yade who defected from the UMP to his Parti Radical. Yade, formerly in charge of both sports and human rights portfolios, is a particularly popular politician.

She told France 2 television Sunday that she has "a great deal of affection for Nicolas Sarkozy."

“But I am guided by conviction and not affection…", she added, "and Sarkozy has chosen a political direction which I do not share.”

Other than Borloo, Sarkozy is likely to face a number of centre-right candidates, including former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the leader of the centrist MoDem party, François Bayrou.

Responding to these defections, Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon, who had previously admitted that he was uncomfortable with the UMP’s rightward swing, appealed for unity.

“I say to Jean-Louis Borloo and to anyone else who wants to follow him that I recognise the values they say stand for,” he told UMP militants. “But it is in nobody’s interest to dismember the government’s parliamentary majority [ahead of an election]. Unity is not an option. It is a necessity."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said at a political meeting on Saturday: “Division is always suicidal. One thing that is sure is that if we field too many candidates for the first round [of the presidential election], we will run straight into the wall.”

Far right on the rise

While struggling with housekeeping, Sarkozy has been steadily losing supporters to the far right.

His 2007 election victory severely undermined the far-right National Front. Its then-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen saw his powerbase vote en masse for Sarkozy, who presented himself as an uncompromising conservative determined to reform the country’s economy.

These promises have proved to be too ambitious, and even though Sarkozy was toying with traditional far-right policies like clearing illegal Roma camps, banning the full Islamic veil in public and launching debates on national identity and the role of Islam in France, far-right voters have flocked back to the anti-immigration FN.

According to Liberation’s ViaVoice survey, 21% of those polled who said they were in favour of FN leader Marine Le Pen's election as president, voted Sarkozy in 2007.

The renaissance of the left

Amid the disarray in the centre-right and the growth of far-right support, the opposition Socialist Party (PS) is currently ahead in the polls by a very large margin.

Three of the top four candidates in the Liberation poll are socialist – and the only one from the centre-right is the incumbent Prime Minister François Fillon (at third place with 30%).

Dominique Strauss Kahn, currently head of the International Monetary Fund, is topping the list with 43%, almost twice Sarkozy's score.

The PS will this autumn put its leadership contest to a nationwide US-style primary vote, and commentators in France have pointed out that the left will present a single candidate against the right's many.

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