A little more than one year after he lost a re-election bid to Socialist President Francois Hollande, speculation in France again suggests that the controversial Nicolas Sarkozy may try to re-ignite his stalled political career. France's next presidential election will not be held until 2017, giving Sarkozy plenty of time to gather his forces and embark on a comeback.
Given France's deepening economic crisis (the country recently slipped into another recession), the expanding unpopularity of the listless Hollande, and the disarray and infghting within his center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, Sarkozy may believe the time is ripe to renew his political ambitions. When Sarkozy lost to Hollande last year (after seeking, and largely failing, to siphon off some of the extreme right-wing voters of anti-immigrant National Front leader Marine Le Pen), he claimed he was “retiring” from the turmoil and stresses of national politics.
That declaration was likely premature -- indeed, a poll conducted in May indicated that Sarkozy would soundly defeat Hollande if a hypothetical election were convened now. That survey showed that Sarkozy would go into the decisive second round with more than 34 percent of the votes (versus the 27 percent he scored last year), while President Hollande would not even make it to that round, with only 19 percent of the electorate (a loss of ten points compared to last year.)
According to the French radio station Europe 1, the former president has his plan already in place. He would reportedly first call all of his friends and supporters after the European parliamentary elections in 2014, followed by a return to French political life by 2015. “I actually wish for the return of Sarkozy because we need his experience and authority,” said Geoffroy Didier, the UMP Deputy Secretary General to Euronews. “Will he return? Does he want to? I don’t know. I can’t speak for him. The UMP now has a president, Jean Francois Copé. But it is true that the person who could truly build some unity in the UMP is probably Sarkozy.”
Since his forced departure from the center of French politics, Sarkozy has maintained a busy schedule, including speaking engagements around the world for which he is paid fees of up to $325,000 each. He has also resumed his former professional career as a lawyer.
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So far, Sarkozy has tried to remain indifferent to France's endless political intrigues – but last November, he was forced to step in when a dispute erupted between his former prime minister, Francois Fillon, and a candidate for the UMP leadership, Jean-Francois Copé. The bitter battle between Fillon and Cope was so close – 50.03 percent for Copé and 49.97 percent for Fillon among the party voters – the loser, Fillon, claimed fraud.
In order to alleviate negative feelings, Sarkozy met with the two combatants for the sake of party unity. That attempt failed – in fact, Fillon turned against his former boss and has openly lobbied to become the UMP presidential candidate in 2017. In response, Sarkozy allegedly called his former prime minister “the worst traitor.”
Earlier in the year, Sarkozy told a French weekly magazine that he would come back to politics not because “he wants to,” but rather that the country's deteriorating condition harkens his return. Sarkozy has at least one very powerful and influential source of unconditional support -- Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the successor of another Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Lagarde, a long-time friend and ally of Sarkozy's, baffled and puzzled France when a letter was made public in which she implored Sarkozy to “use me for as long as it suits you and suits your plans.”
Those plans face some other roadblocks – Sarkozy faces some serious legal matters involving the wealthiest woman in France, Lilliane Betancourt, and the late murderous dictator of Libya, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. According to reports, Betancourt – who owns the L’Oréal perfume company – and Gadhafi both made illegal financial contributions to Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign.