FRENCH ELECTION

Nicolas Sarkozy accuses Republican rivals of using ‘lies and dishonesty’ to deny him second presidential term

Sarkozy’s comeback strategy has focused on capturing votes from the National Front by taking the most extreme positions among the main candidates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 6:54pm

Nicolas Sarkozy is seeing Socialists everywhere. The former president, who’s running to replace Francois Hollande in next year’s French election, is accusing his centre-right rivals of underhand tactics for inciting left-wing voters to help choose the party’s candidate.

The Republicans are holding their first ever primary over two rounds next month with polls showing whoever wins will be favourite to become the next president. That has given the contest special importance for voters across the political spectrum and, with anyone who signs a paper stating they share the party’s values eligible to vote, some Socialists have been tempted to participate to help stop Sarkozy.

“If you are on the left, you don’t share the values of the right and the centre,” Sarkozy said on Wednesday in an interview on Radio Classique. “People are being asked to sign a charter they don’t believe in. What do you call that? Lies and disloyalty.”

Where is the loyalty when you appeal to the left to vote for you?
Nicolas Sarkozy

According to September’s monthly Ipsos election poll, about 10 per cent of the voters in the Republicans’ primary could be Socialist sympathisers.

Sarkozy’s comeback strategy has focused on capturing votes from the National Front by taking the most extreme positions among the main candidates – he’s called for a constitutional ban on Islamic-style bathing suits and said schools shouldn’t provide alternatives to pork dishes. But while such rhetoric fires up the party base, it leaves him vulnerable if more moderates join the contest.

Sarkozy is president of the Republicans and remains popular with the party faithful but he’s disliked by the wider populace. BVA’s monthly survey showed him with a 19 per cent approval rating, just above Hollande’s 18 per cent. Republican front runner Alain Juppe was at 47 per cent, the most of any French political figure.

Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux in south western France, has struck a measured tone throughout the campaign and is narrowly ahead of Sarkozy in the polls focused on the primary. A TNS Sofres survey in late August showed that the more people vote, the bigger the spread. Juppe would beat Sarkozy with 52 per cent in the second round with a restricted turnout, but with 59 per cent in a broader contest.

“Everyone needs to be aware that you don’t need to be a card-carrying party member to vote,” Juppe said in a September 27 interview on France Inter radio. “The idea of the primaries is to welcome everyone. So if there are people disappointed in Hollande’s approach, then they’re free to join in.”

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who was Sarkozy’s spokesperson in the 2012 election but is now running against him for the nomination, said September 29 that anyone who wanted a change from the Socialist incumbent should be welcome to participate. Other candidates in the primary are also hoping for a wide turnout.

“People are not genetically on the left or genetically on the right,” Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, another contender, said in a radio interview on Wednesday. “Let them all come.”

French parties traditionally didn’t hold primaries. Anyone who wanted to run simply piled into the first round of the presidential election. Then an earthquake hit.

In 2002 National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round, beating out Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin whose score was whittled down by a myriad of leftist candidates. That forced the party to rethink its approach and with various allies it held its first primaries in the 2007 and 2012 election cycles.

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This time round the left-wing parties will hold their primary on January 22 and 27. But with polls showing that whoever they choose will be eliminated in a first round won by Le Pen’s daughter Marine, that contest holds little interest for outsiders.

Many Socialists are more interested in who the Republicans nominate, though not everyone wants their views to count.

“I’m a candidate for the right and the centre, not a candidate of the right and the centre and the left,” Sarkozy said at a rally in Reichstett, Alsace on Monday. “Where is the loyalty when you appeal to the left to vote for you?”