French media was buzzing with speculation about the political future of President Sarkozy on Wednesday after comments he made on an official to French Guiana.

"/> French media was buzzing with speculation about the political future of President Sarkozy on Wednesday after comments he made on an official to French Guiana.

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Faltering Sarkozy mulls end of career

French media was buzzing with speculation about the political future of President Sarkozy on Wednesday after comments he made on an official to French Guiana.

Faltering Sarkozy mulls end of career
Libération newspaper 25 January 2012

Left-leaning newspaper Libération led with the headline “Déjà abattu?” (“Already beaten?”). Le Monde’s Wednesday edition headlined that his camp was “stricken with fear of defeat”.

Sarkozy has raised the prospect of an end to his political career, less than three months ahead of a presidential election that is looking increasingly difficult for him to win.

While the “hyperactive” Sarkozy is not expected to officially announce his candidacy before the end of February or early March, France knows he is already on the campaign trail.

With speculation about the president’s future rising, the harshest comment came Tuesday from centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, tipped to win between 12 and 14 percent of the first round vote on April 22nd.

“Everyone can see that for Nicolas Sarkozy, his position is compromised. So it’s up to him to reflect, to look at the situation as it is,” Bayrou told RTL radio.

Latest opinion polls give right-wing Sarkozy around 23 percent of votes in the first round, 30 percent to his Socialist rival François Hollande, and 18 percent to far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

Faith in Sarkozy’s future, even within his own camp, has reportedly wilted in recent weeks. 

Sarkozy discussed his hypothetical defeat with a small group of journalists, including from AFP, during his trip to French Guiana over the weekend.

He said he was “certain” he would end his life in politics if defeated.

“I would completely change my life, you won’t hear about me anymore if I’m beaten,” he said.

At 56 years old, “he’s thinking that his life after politics will be more pleasant. Not more interesting, but more pleasant,” his former interior minister and close aide Brice Hortefeux told Le Monde.

The pro-government Le Figaro interpreted the same Sarkozy quotes as showing that he “remains serene in the face of Hollande”.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, at one time considered the best replacement candidate should Sarkozy not stand, has repeatedly voiced his support for the president.

“I saw him this morning … he didn’t give me that impression (of doubt) at all. He appears totally resolved to go for victory,” Juppé said.

Sarkozy’s introspective mood, whether real or imagined, has filtered through to the press after Hollande held his first mass campaign rally with 20,000 followers on Sunday. Hollande is to present his detailed presidential programme on Thursday.

Opinion polls say that in a second round vote on May 6th, Hollande would beat Sarkozy by 53 percent to 47 percent, despite a string of Hollande faux pas.

Another poll on candidates’ credibility said the French had more faith in Hollande on maintaining their purchasing power, dealing with unemployment and education and answering the concerns of the French.

Sarkozy nevertheless remains the candidate with the best “stature of a president of the republic”, the poll said.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson