Ex-Prez Sarkozy crashes out of French presidential race

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy crashed out of the French presidential election on Sunday, suffering a humiliating defeat in the first round of the Right-wing primary.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2016 11:59 IST
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy,French presidential election,Right wing
Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and candidate for the French conservative presidential primary, reacts after the results in the first round of the French center-right presidential primary election at his headquarters in Paris.(Reuters)

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy crashed out of the French presidential election on Sunday, suffering a humiliating defeat in the first round of the Right-wing primary.

Sarkozy was beaten into third place after a stunning upset by Francois Fillon, who served as his prime minister, with the veteran Alain Juppe placing second.

The surprise result puts Fillon in a commanding position for next Sunday’s second round of a contest that is widely expected to decide France’s next leader.

The winner is tipped to face — and beat — far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the decisive presidential run-off next May.

Read | I’m not Clinton, France is not America: French presidential favourite Juppe

In a major upset, Fillon, a pro-business conservative, took more than 44% of the vote to around 28 percent for former prime minister and foreign minister Juppe and just under 21% for Sarkozy, according to nearly complete results.

“I fought for my beliefs with passion... I did not manage to convince the voters,” a dignified Sarkozy told his supporters, and threw his support behind Fillon.

“I have great respect for Alain Juppe, but Francois Fillon’s political choices are closer to mine,” Sarkozy said, adding he would now withdraw from political life.

Fillon, 62, pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind victory in the first round after trailing Sarkozy and Juppe in all but the final days of the two-month campaign.

Read | Clinton’s defeat weakens Merkel, Trump’s victory strengthens Le Pen

Voters appear to have chosen Fillon’s more understated style over the brashness of 61-year-old Sarkozy, who still deeply divides the country four years after being turfed out of office by the Socialist Francois Hollande.

With France’s ruling left bitterly divided, the campaign has been heavily influenced by the populist forces behind Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US election.

Juppe, 71, was the early frontrunner but Fillon made stunning progress thanks largely to strong performances in three televised debates.

Fillon way out ahead

Fillon told his ecstatic camp that his programme was one of “hope”. He said he had a “special thought” for Sarkozy, whom he served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012.

It appears that the participation of leftwing voters in the first ever rightwing primary to be held in France could have been a significant factor in dragging down Sarkozy.

Anyone who paid two euros and signed a declaration of adherence to “the values of the centre and the right” could take part.

Many leftwing voters are thought to have voted against Sarkozy.

Turnout was high with around four million people casting ballots, according to a preliminary count.

One Socialist voter, a sports teacher in his 50s who identified himself only as Eric, told AFP he had taken part to vote “against Sarkozy”.

“I’m fed up of that guy, he thinks he is all-powerful and he has been involved in too many scandals. Juppe, despite everything else, is the opposite,” he said as he cast his vote in the Paris suburb of Pantin.

Sarkozy scandals

In a final TV debate among the seven candidates on Thursday, Sarkozy angrily ducked a question about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

The case is one of several investigations to dog Sarkozy since he left office after what was dubbed a “bling-bling” presidency because of his flashy lifestyle.

Juppe and Fillon have broadly similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following jihadist attacks that killed more than 230 people.

Read | French prez Sarkozy again hit by claims of receiving funds from Gadhafi’s regime

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

Ultimately, the choice came down to style.

Sarkozy emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it made him a better choice than the mild-mannered Juppe to safeguard France’s position in an uncertain world following Trump’s election.

Fillon has promised to slash 600,000 jobs from France’s bloated civil service.

The nomination of the right-wing candidate on November 27 is expected to trigger an announcement from Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election despite the lowest popularity ratings of any post-war president.

Also Read | The ‘Trump effect’ weighs on France’s presidential election

First Published: Nov 21, 2016 11:14 IST