President Sarkozy officially declares re-election bid
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After weeks of suspense, French President Nicolas Sarkozy officially declared his bid for re-election on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “give French people a voice” and highlighting jobs and the economy as two of his main campaign priorities.
After months of “will he” or “won’t he”, French President Nicolas Sarkozy officially announced his intention to run for a second term in the country’s upcoming presidential elections during an appearance on prime-time television Wednesday.
When asked point-blank if he planned to run for the presidency, Sarkozy responded bluntly, “Yes, I am [a] candidate for the presidential election”.
Sarkozy wasted no time addressing the state of France’s economy amid Europe’s intensifying sovereign debt-crisis, a hot-button issue in the upcoming elections.
‘A strong France’
“France can’t pretend that the crisis doesn’t exist, that Europe doesn’t exist, that the world doesn’t exist”, Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy also underscored his desire to give power back to the French people, saying “One of the central ideas to my plan is to give the French people a voice through a referendum”.
With unemployment at a 12-year high of 9.3 percent, Sarkozy said he was considering a referendum on unemployment benefits and jobs training, saying further reforms are needed in order to maintain the country’s “way of life”.
“When one is unemployed, one has rights and responsibilities…I want to protect and help the jobless, but above all I want to give them the means to work. I want to put jobs at the centre of everything”, Sarkozy hammered home.
“The French must understand that if France is strong they will be protected,” Sarkozy said, riffing off his leaked campaign slogan, “A strong France”.
Sarkozy also hinted at an apology for unfulfilled promises during his first-term, promising change if the electorate votes to give him a second shot at the presidency.
“If the French trust me and give me another five years in office, these five years will not be the same as the first”, Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy has teased the French public with his reluctance to declare his bid for re-election ahead of the country’s first round of voting on April 22, causing widespread speculation as to when and where he would finally do it. Wednesday’s announcement on French television TF1’s evening news means that the centre-right president has formally entered the race against rival Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande.
“Now the real campaign starts”, French Foreign Minister and Sarkozy ally Alain Juppé told French radio station France Info earlier on Wednesday. “We will have a real debate and see the weaknesses of the Socialist candidate”.
‘It’s just another mundane event’, says PS
Sarkozy’s declaration coincided with Hollande’s visit to France’s northwestern town of Rouen, where the socialist candidate played down Sarkozy’s declaration as no big surprise.
“We’ve known this news for weeks, we’ve known it since forever. The truth is that the president-candidate has been a candidate for the past five years. He had barely been elected when he began campaigning”, Hollande said.
Hollande’s response was consistent with the PS’ tepid interest in Sarkozy’s impending candidacy for the past several weeks.
“When Nicolas Sarkozy speaks, there are no flashing red lights, it’s just another mundane event”, PS party spokesman Benoit Hamon said in a press conference on Monday.
Hamon also took the opportunity to accuse Sarkozy of “playing games of suspense” with the public, and manipulating his undeclared status over the past few months to promote himself using public financing. As an official candidate, Sarkozy is now subject to limited air time and funds for his campaign.
Yet behind closed doors, the PS apparently holds a very different view of the potential consequences of Sarkozy’s candidacy. In an interview on Tuesday with Europe 1 radio, a PS insider said “Nicolas Sarkozy’s declaration is going to have a very big impact”, adding that the party was working hard to come up with a coordinated and measured response.
Sarkozy’s re-election bid comes at a critical moment, as France grapples with the fallout from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and struggles to shore up its own economy. For the past several months, polls have consistently put Sarkozy behind Hollande, even forecasting that he could lose to the socialist candidate in the country’s May 6 runoff.
Yet it looks as though the incumbent’s fortunes are possibly changing. According to a February 13th study by French polling centre IPSOS, Sarkozy’s popularity has inched upwards by two points, while Hollande’s has ebbed by four, narrowing the gap between the two candidates.
Sarkozy is expected to reveal his manifesto in France’s port city of Marseille on Sunday.