Sarkozy announces plan to return to French politics

Former president says he cannot ignore the suffering of his compatriots

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy leaves a Paris restaurant last Friday, the day he announced on his Facebook page that he is a candidate for the leadership of the conservative UMP party, which will elect its new president on November 29th. Photograph: Reuters/Charles Platiau

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy leaves a Paris restaurant last Friday, the day he announced on his Facebook page that he is a candidate for the leadership of the conservative UMP party, which will elect its new president on November 29th. Photograph: Reuters/Charles Platiau

 

When the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by François Hollande on May 6th, 2012, he promised to leave French political life. In a prime time television interview last night, Mr Sarkozy returned from the political wilderness, claiming to have learned tact and wisdom.

Mr Sarkozy announced on his Facebook page on Friday that he is a candidate for the leadership of the conservative UMP party, which will elect its new president on November 29th. He says he will change the party’s name, “transcend the left/right divide” and win disillusioned voters back from the extreme right-wing National Front.

Mr Sarkozy has always portrayed his political ambition as a question of sacrifice and duty.

“I am French in every centimetre of my body,” he said.

“I have watched France for 2½ years. I never saw such despair, such anger, such lack of hope . . . I have no choice. I must give back a part of what my country gave to me.”

Leadership rivals

Mr Sarkozy faces a serious challenge from Bruno Le Maire, a young and popular parliamentary deputy, for the UMP leadership. It is no secret he intends to use the party as a launching pad for the conservative presidential primary in the autumn of 2016. Two former prime ministers – Alain Juppé and François Fillon – have already declared their candidacy for the primary. Mr Juppé surpasses Mr Sarkozy in opinion polls.

“The disinformation has already started,” Mr Juppé told Europe 1 radio yesterday when asked about the arguments Mr Sarkozy uses against him, namely his age (71 at the time of the 2017 presidential election) and a conviction for corrupt practices at city hall when Jacques Chirac was mayor of Paris.

“I’m not going to spend time responding to what Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly says,” Mr Juppé replied. “As for problems with the judiciary, he’d be better off avoiding a contest!”

Mr Sarkozy’s name appears in seven pending scandals involving the abuse of influence and/or louche financial dealings.

So many of Mr Sarkozy’s acolytes have been charged or placed under investigation that commentator Franz-Olivier Giesbert suggests Mr Sarkozy should hold his political meetings at the Palais de Justice.

In the most serious case, the so-called Azibert affair, the former president was detained by police and questioned for 15 hours at the beginning of July, then placed under formal investigation for “active corruption”.

He and his lawyer are suspected of having offered to help a supreme court judge obtain a post he coveted in exchange for inside information on deliberations regarding another Sarkozy case.

Clear conscience

“Do you think if I had the slightest thing to reproach myself that I would come back to politics?” Mr Sarkozy asked.

Both Mr Hollande and National Front leader Marine Le Pen would be delighted to face Mr Sarkozy in 2017. Opinion polls show that close to two-thirds of French voters still reject him.

“I can’t wait,” said Ms Le Pen. Referring to the “postcards” Mr Sarkozy has sent regularly to supporters since leaving office, in the form of press interviews and public appearances, Ms Le Pen continued: “This time he sent a letter-bomb to the UMP. He’s a man of the past, and a past that is discredited by his very poor results and daily scandals.”