SHARE
COPY LINK

ELECTION

Sarkozy ‘fatalistic’ as election approaches

Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign appeared to lose steam on Wednesday, four days ahead of the first round of France's presidential election that pollsters increasingly say he will lose to his Socialist rival.

Sarkozy 'fatalistic' as election approaches

Abandoned by some allies and rounded on by some traditionally pro-government media, a visibly tired but still campaigning Sarkozy said “we’re three days away from the first round, let’s wait peacefully.”

He dismissed a CSA opinion poll ahead of Sunday’s first round that said Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande would score a thumping first-round victory over the UMP party’s incumbent with 29 percent to 24 percent.

“It contradicts all the others, because they say I’ll win. We have three days to wait, let’s wait peacefully,” Sarkozy told BFM-TV of the poll that also predicted a spectacular 58-42 percent second-round victory for Hollande.

French media noted Sarkozy’s fatalism, with the left-leaning Liberation daily saying he was “overplaying his serenity” by visiting a sea rescue naval yard while “the morale of his troops has been taking on water for days.”

“The theme is sea rescue,” noted a journalist during Tuesday’s visit in the northwestern region Brittany, a traditional Socialist bastion. “Does a candidate need saving?”

Sarkozy drily remarked on the wit of the naval-themed question – saying “Exceptional. Such talent” – but refused to answer.

Even the pro-government Le Figaro daily described Sarkozy as “detached and relaxed” during his Brittany trip.

Le Figaro put his losses in opinion polls down to an “apparent hesitation” between more right-wing or centrist strategies that had benefited centrist candidate Francois Bayrou and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen.

In an unusual departure from its editorial line, Le Figaro said Sarkozy kept repeating “like a mantra” that “there will be surprises” in the vote and that in Brittany, his “heart wasn’t really in it.”

Opinion polls in March put security-conscious Sarkozy briefly ahead of Hollande after Mohamed Merah’s Al-Qaeda-inspired killing spree in and around southern city Toulouse, but since then Hollande has pulled back in front.

An aide to Sarkozy told Liberation: “We absolutely have to come out ahead in the first round, or it’s going to be impossible.”

The latest poll from BVA, published Wednesday, said Hollande would beat Sarkozy in the first round on Sunday 29.5 percent to 27.5 and again in the May 6 second round 56 percent to 44 percent, a wide margin of victory.

The poll also said far-right candidate Le Pen would win 14 percent of votes, the Left Front’s Jean-Luc Melenchon 13 percent and centrist candidate Bayrou 12 percent.

Several former Sarkozy allies on Tuesday said they would vote for Hollande, including former junior minister for urban planning, Fadela Amara, Sarkozy’s former high commissioner for youth Martin Hirsch and Brigitte Girardin, a former minister under president Jacques Chirac.

But Frederic Dabi of the IFOP polling institute said the changes of political heart would have a negligible impact on the election.

“The effect on the electoral balance of power is minimal,” he said, although the rallying around the Socialist candidate contributes to a “growing feeling about the possibility of a Francois Hollande victory.”

Nevertheless, UMP senator and former minister Chantal Jouanno tweeted that she would vote for Sarkozy despite “personal reasons to be against him”.

“I will vote for him because he is the only one to dare… confront France’s problems,” she said.

SARKOZY

Corruption trial begins for France’s ex president Sarkozy

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial on Monday on charges of trying to bribe a judge, in what could be a humiliating postscript to a political career tainted by a litany of legal investigations.

Corruption trial begins for France's ex president Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Though he is not the first modern head of state in the dock – his predecessor and political mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzlement – Sarkozy is the first to face corruption charges.

He fought furiously over the past six years to have the case thrown out, and has denounced “a scandal that will go down in history”.

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France's most popular rightwing politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised the judge a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Their case rests in large part on wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, which judges authorised as prosecutors also looked into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still underway, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser, the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, suddenly retracted his claim of delivering millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog have assailed the taps on their phones as a breach of client-attorney privilege, but in 2016 a top court upheld their use as evidence.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million.

Herzog, a leading member of the Paris bar, faces the same charges as well as violation of professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

'A boost'

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias – Paul Bismuth – to buy a private phone for conversing secretly with his lawyer.

On around a dozen occasions, they discussed reaching out to a top French judge, Gilbert Azibert, a general counsel at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal and civil cases.

Prosecutors say Azibert, who is also on trial, was tasked with trying to obtain information from the Cour de Cassation lawyer in charge of the Bettencourt inquiry, and to induce him to seek a verdict in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his extensive contacts to give “a boost” to Azibert's efforts to secure the cushy Monaco post.

“He's been working on it,” Herzog tells Sarkozy in a call from early 2014.
Azibert was already considered a leading candidate for the job, but “if you give him a boost, it's always better,” Herzog says in another.

“I'll make him move up,” Sarkozy tells Herzog, according to the indictment by prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

But later, Sarkozy tells his lawyer that he would not “approach” the  Monaco authorities on Azibert's behalf — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“Mr Azibert never got any post in Monaco,” Sarkozy told BFM television this month – though under French law, just an offer or promise can constitute corruption.

Still in limelight

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, has long accused the French judiciary of waging a vendetta against him, not least because of his attempts to limit judges' powers and criticism that they are too soft on delinquents.

He will again be back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy's team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly €43 million on the lavish run – nearly twice the legal limit.

The long-running legal travails hindered his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, losing out as the rightwing nominee to his former prime minister François Fillon.

Yet like other former French presidents, Sarkozy has surfed a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at his public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

SEE ALSO: Sarkozy accused of racism after 'monkey' comment

SHOW COMMENTS