Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a surprise return to frontline politics on Friday in what is widely being seen as a first step toward a run at the 2017 presidential election.
The move reverses his pledge to leave politics after losing to socialist Francois Hollande in the 2012 presidential race. But while Sarkozy himself says his return has been motivated by his patriotic desire to quell the anger of his compatriots (“b
eing just a spectator would have been an act of abandonment“), the real cause is more likely to have been a hit to the approval ratings of the assumed frontrunner.
While Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, has yet to announce any plans to make a presidential bid in 2017, the rumour mill has been on overdrive this year with President Francois Hollande’s popularity nosediving. In June, the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman openly speculated that this was her intention:
Finally, it seems to me quite likely that Lagarde now has her eyes on the French presidency. It is true that she has never run for elective office. On the other hand, the French right is currently in complete disarray — following a funding scandal that looks likely to damage the chances of Nicolas Sarkozy making a comeback. The Socialists and President Hollande are in an even worse state.
Fueling the chatter has been the fact that, unlike Lagarde’s potential rivals for the job, her popularity ratings in France have remained comfortably above 45%.
That is, until the most recent polls.
Last month, Lagarde announced that she had been placed under investigation over alleged ministerial wrongdoing during her time as finance minister under Sarkozy. She has since been charged with “simple negligence,” which she says proved that she was “not complicit in any violation.”
Nevertheless, the incident has dented the aura of invulnerability surrounding her, and in the highly patriarchal world of French politics, Sarkozy appears to have picked up the scent of blood in the water. With his own approval ratings starting to climb, it appears the former president couldn’t resist the temptation of throwing his hat back into the political ring.
The conservative UMP party will be hoping that his return helps to reinvigorate the party amid a string on corruption probes, leadership battles, and the steady loss of votes to Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party.
Of course, commentators will note the irony that Sarkozy is himself facing corruption allegations. The former president has been put under investigation for alleged influence peddling while in office. Investigators are attempting to ascertain whether he used his position improperly to help a magistrate get a job in Monaco. He denies the charges.
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