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'Only a court can stop a Sarkozy comeback'

Ben McPartland · 20 Feb 2013, 18:19

Published: 20 Feb 2013 18:19 GMT+01:00

Nicolas Sarkozy has kept a low profile since being unceremoniously kicked out of office last May, but that has not stifled the coverage given to him in the French press. Every week, the man nicknamed 'Sarko' appears in the news as a former political ally evokes the idea of a comeback, or a poll is published revealing how desperate his supporters want him back.

Last week, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé became the latest high profile politician to suggest that Sarkozy will make a dramatic bid to reclaim his place in the Elysée Palace in the 2017 presidential elections.

But can the man who once riled the French with his 'bling bling' style really make a comeback and wrestle the presidency out of the hands of François Hollande? French journalist Neila Latrous, co-author of "The UMP a merciless world"  thinks so.

Can Sarkozy really make a comeback in 2017?

“It’s a real possibility and I think it will happen. He is young, only 58 years old and there is a real nostalgia around Sarkozy, which can be seen in the publication of these polls. A recent survey revealed 75 percent of those people who voted for him in the last election want him to come back.

Why is there such a strong feeling for him among his supporters on the right?

Those on the right never understood why Sarkozy was defeated in the last election.  They say it was not a real defeat. They believe there was a conspiracy against him, led by the media. For his supporters he has unfinished business with the French people. They think he was in the process of reforming France and that the country was in a stronger position on the international scene, with Sarkozy in charge. Five years was just not enough for them. They think he can come back and beat Hollande.

Is there enough support within his own party?

Obviously, potential presidential candidates like François Fillon and [current UMP leader] Jean François Copé would not want to see him back running for the presidency, but he has plenty of support across the party. There is also the group Les Amis de Nicolas Sarkozy, which was set up by his allies. I don’t know if they are plotting how to get him back into politics, but they will provide a launch pad for him when he returns. The most important thing you need to run a campaign for the presidency is money, so Les Amis de Sarkozy will act as a way of finding financial resources for a Sarkozy campaign.

There is also the fact the UMP party does not have any real leader after the bitter leadership battle between Jean François Copé and François Fillon last autumn. The re-run of their election in the autumn of this year will be a sham. There’s no one at the UMP who can possible replace Sarkozy, so that presents him with a chance.

Sarkozy's 'bling bling' image did not endear him to French voters - won’t this be the same in 2017?

It’s true that this could be a handicap for him, but one of his close advisors told me they are working on this problem. They want to try and make his relationship with the French people less impassioned, and their aim is to build up his image and create a more reasonable relationship between him and the French public.

When will the comeback happen and how?

I think if he wants to come back then he must do it between March 2014 - after the municipal election - and before autumn 2016, when the right will hold primaries for the presidential elections. A lot will depend on the municipal elections. If it’s the worst case scenario for the UMP — for example, if they lose key councils, their candidate is not elected mayor of Paris, and if some politicians make agreements with the National Front — then Sarkozy could come back before 2017. It will likely start with him appearing on TV shows, saying how much he misses leading the French people and leading the government. 

What about the impact of legal cases that Sarkozy is implicated in, like the Bettencourt scandal and the Karachi affair?

Well, I spoke recently to one of his close advisors, who has said that only the courts can stop him from coming back. Sarkozy has to wait for these legal cases to be solved. What the advisor fears most is that cases like the Bettencourt one will run on and on and will not be decided before the elections.

And does he actually stand a chance of winning the election?

Well, a lot will depend on the economy. If there is high unemployment and François Hollande has not delivered everything he promised during his presidential campaign, then yes, Sarkozy can win. With the current crisis and rising unemployment levels, people might start to think that things weren't so bad under Nicolas Sarkozy, and not everything was his fault. Also, the policies of François Hollande have not been markedly different to those of Sarkozy, so there is a certain amount of disappointment with Hollande, which will help the former president.

Neila Latrous co-authored the book "UMP a merciless world with Jean-Baptiste Marteau. The pair also wrote "Tragic dance at the UMP" about the bitter battle between François Fillon and Copé.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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