France's ex-president Sarkozy loses support in party race

Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy
Trago | Getty Images
Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lost support in the race for head of the conservative party and could miss the landslide victory that would guarantee his party's nomination for the 2017 presidential election, a poll showed.

Sarkozy, who lost his bid for a second mandate in 2012 to Socialist President Francois Hollande, made his comeback when he announced in September he would seek to be elected party chief on Nov. 29.

His comeback is being clouded by several legal cases that involve Sarkozy and the party. Anything short of a landslide victory to become party president will leave the race to win the party's ticket for the presidential election wide open.

While 63 percent of party supporters want him back at the helm of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party next Sunday, that is 10 percentage points down from just a month ago and far from his initial expectations, a survey by Odoxa pollsters showed on Saturday.

"That 63 percent score would be considered like a disavowal for a former head of state whose close circle initially expected a landslide victory of about 85 percent," said Gael Sliman, president of Odoxa.

The drop in popularity was even sharper when the poll included voters with no party affiliation, with a majority in favour of less high-profile opponents.

The former president lost support after telling a crowd of UMP supporters last week that he would scrap a law allowing gay marriage if he became president in 2017.

The comments, probably aimed at gaining support from vocal anti-gay marriage activists, led even some stalwart supporters to criticise Sarkozy, although others backed his rejection of one of the Socialist government's most controversial reforms.

Some 61 percent of party sympathisers believe Sarkozy will actually not scrap the law if elected, the poll showed. The scepticism goes up to nearly three out of four among all those surveyed.

The UMP was originally created in 2002 as a merger of several parties with the goal of reuniting the French centre-right. But the party faces policy divisions, notably over whether France should accept a deeper European Union.

A separate OpinionWay poll published in Le Figaro daily showed that 86 percent of voters do not want Hollande to stand for re-election in 2017, with even 73 percent of left-wing voters not wanting the country's most unpopular president in polling history to be a candidate.

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