FRANCE’S FORMER PRESIDENT Nicolas Sarkozy handily won the leadership of his right-wing UMP yesterday, placing him firmly on the starting blocks in his race back to the presidential palace.
Sarkozy came first in the party election with a less-than-desired 64.5 percent, placing him at the head of the deeply-split party which is hoping to turn its back on bitter leadership tussles and financial scandals.
The 59-year-old has vowed to reunite the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the political heir to the party founded by Charles de Gaulle after World War II, from a position seen as a key springboard back into office.
“This election marks a new beginning for our political family. We must be united and devote ourselves to finding new solutions for France,” Sarkozy wrote on Facebook shortly after results were announced.
However, political commentators described his score as disappointing for someone hoping to topple the deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande in 2017 elections.
Despite his much-heralded return to politics in September, Sarkozy’s comeback was largely seen as having fallen flat, with a tangle of legal woes continuing to dog him.
Nevertheless the energetic and deeply divisive ex-leader criss-crossed France to drum up support for his candidacy all the while slamming the “mediocrity” of Hollande’s government.
Record unemployment, an economy in the doldrums and a string of scandals have seen Hollande’s approval rating sink to new lows.
“Staying in the background when everything is going so badly would be cowardice, the opposite of my idea of political commitment,” Sarkozy told a political meeting on the eve of the party vote.
He has yet to state it, but there is little doubt about Sarkozy’s endgame: to win back the keys to the Elysee palace which he lost in a humiliating poll defeat to Hollande in 2012.