Sarkozy rejects joining forces with Socialist Party against far right
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Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the conservative Les Républicains, has dismissed the idea of joining forces with the governing Socialist Party to stop the far-right from making any gains in the upcoming regional elections on December 6 and 13.
Sarkozy ruled out the possibility during an interview with France’s Europe 1 radio on Wednesday as he sought to position Les Républicains (formerly the UMP) as the Socialist Party’s (PS) main opposition, just days ahead of the first round of voting.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a Socialist, had previously floated the idea as a strategy to beat the far-right National Front (FN) party, which is projected to win at least two out of the 13 regions up for grabs in the elections, according to recent polls. The FN has never before won a regional vote.
“I’m the head of the opposition,” the former French president told Europe 1. “I am working with our candidates in a campaign where we are explaining to people that we are the only option. I’m trying to explain that there’s an alternative, that they don’t have to expect the worst, that (FN leader Marine) Le Pen’s economic policy is the exact opposite of what France needs.”
First round strategy
By casting Les Républicains in staunch opposition to the PS, Sarkozy has essentially precluded any chance of an alliance in the elections.
Sarkozy’s determination to distance his party from the PS may also be motivated by the fact that Le Pen has sought to lump the two sides together by criticising what she calls the “UMPS system” – a compound of Les Républicains’ former name, the UMP, with the Socialist Party’s initials.
“It’s a pre-first round strategy,” Pascal Perrineau, a political science professor at France’s Sciences Po university, told FRANCE 24. “It’s impossible for (Sarkozy) to say anything else before (the polls close) on Sunday evening. Everyone’s looking to do as much as possible. No one’s showing their cards for the second round.”
Les Républicains ahead in the polls
The move is a smart one for Sarkozy’s party, which is currently leading in the polls. Les Républicains are on course to win four regions, and are in tight contest for another three, according to the latest study by market and opinion researcher BVA.
Meanwhile, the PS is only expected to win three regions in the elections, giving them a greater interest in aligning themselves with Les Républicains.
Perrineau warned, however, against reading too much into the projected outcomes.
“There may be some surprises in store after the first round,” Perrineau said. “Depending on what happens Sunday night, things could evolve on a case-by-case basis. Sarkozy may have to backtrack on his position.”
An attempt to woo undecided voters
Sarkozy’s decision against joining the PS is also likely an attempt to woo undecided voters away from the FN.
“In the face of the FN, Nicolas Sarkozy wants to appear as though he is the most hostile to the left,” Perrineau said. “His attacks are focused mainly on the government’s policies. Meanwhile, when it comes to Marine Le Pen’s party, his criticism has centered on economic issues so as not to alienate voters who are undecided between Les Républicains and the National Front. He risks losing these voters by demonising the FN.”
Sarkozy justified the move, however, by saying it would have played directly into the hands of Le Pen’s party.
“I will not give this to her, I will not do her this favour,” Sarkozy told Europe 1. “I am fighting against the Socialist Party’s policies, but have nothing to do with the National Front”.