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Sarkozy in dire straits seven months before election

As the 2012 French presidential vote approaches, a long string of electoral defeats and legal fiascos have harmed Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election prospects.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2012 re-election prospects are looking increasingly grim. Already down in the polls, Sarkozy is now reeling from an electoral defeat – the left winning the Senate on Sunday – and the fact that two of his allies have been charged in the Karachi affair. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the events which have tarnished his first term and could cost him a second.

Declining popularity

Since the start of his term, Sarkozy has faltered in the polls. By the time he married singer Carla Bruni in February 2008, just nine months after his election, his share of “favourable opinions” had already fallen to 39%. Despite bouncing back to 49% in 2008, surveys generally suggested that a French population hit hard by unemployment was feeling increasingly alienated from a president viewed by many as too flashy -- or “bling-bling” as he has been mockingly described in the French press.

Sarkozy’s dip in the polls continued in 2010, with 30% favourability ratings in November, following the signing of a controversial pension reform. Sarkozy’s flagging support stood in stark contrast with the relatively solid standing (51%) of his prime minister, François Fillon. In Mars 2011, with the president at his lowest point (29% favourability), a new survey showed him placing third in a hypothetical 2012 presidential match-up. Since then, his popularity has risen slightly to around 35%, but several recent polls nevertheless predict defeat in 2012.

Electoral setbacks

The trends suggested in the polls are mirrored by election results. With the exception of the European elections in 2009, Sarkozy’s centre-right Union for a Popular Movement party has suffered setback after setback. In March 2010, the left scored a decisive victory in regional elections, picking up 54% of votes (compared to the right’s 35.4%) and gaining ground in 21 out of 22 French regions. Sarkozy’s subsequent cabinet reshuffle was a bid to regain momentum.

But one year later, Sarkozy suffered another loss in local elections, scoring only 20% against the Socialists (55%) and an increasingly strong far-right National Front (11%).

The most crushing defeat, however, came in the Senatorial elections last week. For the first time since 1958, the right and centre emerged as minority parties in the French parliament’s upper house. The French press portrayed the outcome not only as a victory for the left, but also as a stinging rebuke of Sarkozy specifically. The right’s poor showing in the election has also been attributed to internal divisions in the party.

Legal troubles

Sarkozy has also been hampered by two high-profile political scandals in which he was embroiled. The president emerged relatively unscathed from the Clearstream case, which has become synonymous with the bad blood between former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Sarkozy, but nor did he make any political gain; Villepin was cleared.

Another case that could harm the president’s re-election chances is the Karachi affair, which revolves around suspected corruption in submarine sales to Pakistan. The questioning of two of Sarkozy’s former advisors, Thierry Gaubert and Nicolas Bazire, could poison the president’s re-election campaign just months before the election. Tough the Sarkozy administration released a statement saying that the president “knew nothing” about it, he could still be called upon to testify.

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