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Sarkozy Humiliated as political comeback abruptly terminated

Former French president’s comeback ends abruptly as he concedes he would not be reaching the run-off

November 21

0:00
2016

Paris , France (French Republic) - 21 Nov 2016 - Financial Times

The political comeback of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy ended abruptly on Sunday when he conceded he would not be reaching the run-off of the centre-right primaries to fight the presidential campaign next year. François Fillon, the conservative Catholic who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, rewrote the script of France’s 2017 unpredictable presidential election by cruising to victory in the first round of primaries. Read this FT interview with Mr Fillon, who is also an amateur racer, from earlier this month.

Admitting defeat, Mr Sarkozy endorsed Francois Fillon, a moderate who finished first in Sunday's first round, according to near-complete results.Alain Juppe, who like Mr Fillon is an ex-prime minister, finished second.

Mr Fillon will now face Alain Juppé, another former premier who is more centrist in his views, in the Republicans party’s second run-off round next Sunday. But can the likely new standard bearer of the French right beat Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, in the second round of the presidential election next year to avoid a political earthquake similar to Brexit and Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory? Possibly not, says leading French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who argues the country could follow the US lead because people have lost interest in whether politicians tell the truth.

Since his return to politics two years ago, Mr Sarkozy has seen his dominance of the centre-right leach steadily to his rivals. He banked on a hard-right agenda, sailing close to the policies of far-right leader Marine Le Pen on issues like security, immigration and French identity.Whether it's his policies that have apparently alienated France, his previous record as president, or the scandals that have dogged him since he left, Mr Sarkozy is out of next year's presidential race before it's truly begun.With approval ratings for France's Socialist president at historic lows, this primary contest is seen by some as an unofficial first round in France's presidential election, as whoever wins the centre-right nomination is expected to battle the far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off for the Elysee Palace next year.

Mr Sarkozy was widely seen as a more divisive and combative figure than his leading rivals. Moreover Nicolas Sarkozy was probably directly blamed along with his old chum David Cameron for the drowning of hundreds of migrants off Italy, as any intelligent person can easily point to the cause of the exodus which was “directly caused” by western intervention in Syria and the civil war in Libya.

Perhaps, the most baffling feature is that just below the surface of his belief in his own political immortality, there was the element of delusion and belief in the Napoleanic comeback. Sarkozy genuinely believed he had a chance of recapturing the presidency. LIke all his counterparts, Sarkozy didnt realize that people no longer wanted business as usual. They were sick and tired of corrupt and incompetent leaders who ride on waves. Perhaps Sarkozy was relying on the improbable political comeback which has a long and in some ways glorious history. Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte was cheered upon his return from exile in Elba, and crowds flocked to join his cause. Charles De Gaulle, having resigned in 1948, was elected president in 1958. But there is nothing glorious nor romantic about the prospect of Nicolas Sarkozy returning to the head of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) and becoming that party’s candidate for the presidency of France. Sarkozy is no Bonaparte and no De Gaulle. He may himself be deluded by the myth of the saviour, but there was no reason why the French electorate would should share in this delusion.The reality is that Sarkozy failed the electorate before and there was little hope that he could deliver a French-driven revival, neither political nor economic.

The Gaddafi Connection

A French-Lebanese businessman has publicly repeated claims that the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave €50m (£43m) to fund Nicolas Sarkozy’s successful 2007 campaign for the French presidency.

In a film published on the investigative news website Mediapart, Ziad Takieddine, who introduced Sarkozy to Gaddafi, insists he handed over cases stuffed with cash to the former French leader and his chief of staff, Claude Guéant. In the past, Guéant has claimed that documents obtained by Mediapart, suggesting Libya made cash payments of up to €50m, were false. In May, a French court declared that certain documents were authentic, allowing them to be used in the long-running investigation.

Guéant has been officially put under investigation for organised fraud in the Gaddafi inquiry after allegedly receiving a bank transfer of €500,000, which he claimed had come from the sale of two paintings.

Takieddine, a wealthy businessman who was close to Gaddafi’s regime, told Mediapart he had transported Libyan cash to the French interior ministry at Place Beauvau in Paris, headed at the time by Sarkozy, on three occasions between November 2006 and January 2007. In May 2007, Sarkozy was elected president.

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