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Text by Rachel HOLMAN , Stéphanie TROUILLARD

Latest update : 2013-03-08

Less than a year out of office, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have taken a calculated step toward re-entering French politics, carefully constructing an image as a reluctant soldier called to return 'for France'.

Just 10 months after he was voted out of the Elysée palace, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have broken his vow to withdraw from politics in taking a small but strategic step back into the spotlight.

There have been rumblings that Sarkozy may attempt to stage a comeback for weeks, with former foreign minister Alain Juppé telling France’s Parliamentary Channel LCP in mid-February that he had a “feeling” his old boss planned on running for president again in 2017.

Yet despite all the hints and suggestions, Sarkozy kept a low-profile on the issue, allowing anticipation to build up around him. The former president finally broke his silence on the possibility of a return to politics in an interview with the right-leaning weekly Valeurs Actuelles, which hit newsstands on Thursday.

“It’s the first time he has planted any ideas about his return to politics himself. Up until now, the people around him and ‘The Friends of Nicolas Sarkozy’ [an organisation of politicians dedicated to upholding his legacy] have laid the groundwork for him. But now he’s opening up the possibility, even if it’s not a firm commitment,” Arnaud Mercier, a political communication professor at the University of Lorraine, told FRANCE 24.

While Sarkozy maintained that he had no personal desire to wade back into the political scene, he did say that he may be forced back into his old profession out of “duty”.

“Do I honestly want to come back? No,” Sarkozy said. “There will unfortunately come a time when the question will no longer be ‘Do you want to?’ but ‘Do you have the choice?’”

“In that case, I will be obligated to take it on. Not out of desire. Out of duty. Only because it’s about France,” he added.

A calculated move

In the interview, Sarkozy comes off as a true patriot and reluctant soldier resigned to the possibility he may once again have to take up arms for the greater good.

“He’s positioning himself as a Gaullist figure,” Mercier said. “He doesn’t want to appear as someone ambitious who just couldn’t accept defeat. To the contrary, he has presented himself as a politician who is there for his country.”

Sarkozy’s remarks couldn’t have come at a better moment. France’s socialist President François Hollande, who beat Sarkozy in the country’s May 2012 election, has watched his approval ratings plummet since taking over the Elysée.

According to a recent survey by France’s BVA opinion and polling centre, 68 percent of French voters are disappointed with Hollande’s performance, while 51 percent also said they felt Sarkozy would have done a better job had he won re-election.

What’s more, an extremely public power-struggle for control of the country’s right-wing UMP, to which Sarkozy belongs, has left the party without an appealing candidate come 2017.

With much of the country apparently disappointed with the state of political affairs, Sarkozy’s popularity has only grown.

According to Mercier, his decision to speak about his future in politics now, no matter how tentatively, was no coincidence.

“It’s too dangerous for him to stay out of sight until just before the primaries and say nothing for the next two years,” Mercier said. “[Instead] he’s going to sow the idea that there is a real void and that he’s the best person to fill it. He wants to keep things in place for a bit and prevent his opponents from organising themselves.”

As strategic as Sarkozy’s comments may have been, Mercier went on to say that he believed the former president when he talked about being weary of politics, adding that if a comeback happens in the next four years, it would be under very particular circumstances.

“He doesn’t want to be just another candidate,” Mercier said. “He sees himself coming back amid calls for his return.”

Date created : 2013-03-07


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