In an attempt to embrace the Conservative base, French president Nicholas Sarkozy turned to right-wing politicians in the cabinet reshuffle on Sunday. Contrary to media speculations, François Fillon, who in the recent times is seen to have gained more popularity than the president among the traditional conservatives, has retained his prime ministerial seat. Unanticipated by most was the inclusion of Alian Juppe, the former prime minister, in the new cabinet.

In the present cabinet,  Alian Juppe, who served in the Jacques Chirac's government and suspended from politics after he was convicted on charges of corruption in 2004,  has been named the defense minister, the second most important position in the government.

The reshuffled cabinet was restructured from a total of 37 members to 22 ministers. Newcomer, Michele Alliot-Marie has been appointed the foreign minister, replacing Bernard Kouchner, who recently expressed concerns over the administration.

Mounting political tensions and widespread protests marking the controversial pension system reforms pushed Sarkozy's popularity ratings to a record low in the past few months. The President, in June this year, promised a radical government overhaul, aiming to win over support in the run-up for the 2012 election. 

However, adding further embarrassment to the ailing government, Sarkozy, who was looking to replace the prime minister, was forced to hold on to Fillon after pressure from aides within his Union for a Popular Movement Party (UMP). Jean-Louis Borloo, the former Ecology Minister was earlier tipped to replace Fillon, but he walked out of the Sarkozy administration expressing dissent.

Setting aside his left-wing inclinations, Sarkozy also dropped ministers, Rama Yade and Fadéla Amara, both politicians from ethnic minorities. The former ministers openly criticized the government's policies in the recent months.

Opposition parties in Paris slammed Sarkozy on the reshuffle, some complaining that change wasn't even substantive. Martine Aubry, the First Secretary of the France's Socialist Party, stated that it was the return of a 'hard right' government.

Le Monde quoted Peter Lawrence, the national secretary of the Communist Party, as saying, The surprise is that there is none, except for the ghost Alain Juppe.

The Green party stated that there has been much ado about nothing.

It's not a redesign, but a renunciation the party's official statement read.

While Fillon maintained that he has begun a new phase, analysts suggest that the new government could decelerate the reform process and almost remain conservative.

After his re-election, Filon, in a statement, said, After three and a half years of brave reforms, carried out despite a severe global economic and financial crisis, I am starting... a new phase with determination which will allow our country to strengthen the growth of the economy to help jobs, promote solidarity and safeguard the security of all French people.