Sarkozy hints at return bid in 2017 in first speech since election defeat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 4:03am


France's former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy has made his first political speech since his election defeat last year, lashing out at the state of France in a move seen as a step towards running for president again in 2017.

Sarkozy delivered a behind-closed-doors address to a crisis meeting of his UMP party on Monday after a constitutional court rejected his 2012 presidential campaign spending, prompting fines that have pushed the party into financial meltdown.

Despite costing his party €11 million (HK$110 million) in withdrawn state subsidies, Sarkozy was welcomed by cheering supporters and delivered a speech styling himself as a saviour of the party.

"This is not my political return," he cautioned. "The day I return, it will be to speak to the French people about France."

This is not my political return. The day I return, it will be to speak to the French people about France

But the tone of his speech suggested the first stage of a return. After taking "full responsibility" for the debacle over his campaign accounts that were rejected due to overspending and improper accounting, Sarkozy delivered a grandstanding critique of France and, without naming him, Socialist President Francois Hollande.

He warned that the French were suffering. He said: "We talk of an economic, financial, political crisis. There's a crisis that worries me more: the crisis of ideas."

He added that old "ideologies of the 20th century" could not be applied today: "We're the only country afraid of progress."

Sarkozy, who once likened politics to an addictive drug, had vowed to give it up after his defeat last year. It remains to be seen how a comeback would sit within the fractured UMP party, badly bruised after its own bitter and contested leadership race.

UMP faces a primary contest to choose the presidential candidate for 2017. Among others, Francois Fillon, Sarkozy's prime minister and now internal rival, has vowed to run for the candidacy no matter who stands.

A CSA poll at the weekend showed 67 per cent of UMP supporters wanted Sarkozy as their candidate in 2017. An Ifop poll found 59 per cent of French people did not want Sarkozy to run in 2017, but 70 per cent expected he would anyway.

Sarkozy is at the centre of a series of corruption investigations, including alleged illegal campaign funding from the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.