France's Sarkozy back with a chance in presidential primaries

# 14 July 2016 04:45 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. For months, his main rival, Alain Juppe, was all the rage while he was dubbed "the Napoleon of supermarkets" by a left-wing news magazine as he toured malls signing copies of his book, APA reports quoting Reuters.

But now former president Nicolas Sarkozy has crept back into contention to become the conservative candidate in France's 2017 presidential election, overtaking Juppe among core supporters of their Les Republicains party.

The abrasive 61-year-old, who lost his re-election bid to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012 after disenchanting both free-market reformers and leftists during his five-year term, is still less popular than Juppe among all center-right voters but the gap has narrowed.

For Sarkozy's closest supporters, his improved ratings have much to do with his track record as a strong-willed statesman at a difficult time for Europe - with the refugee crisis and Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

"More and more voters think he has the experience required to face the crisis we are going through now," said LR lawmaker Daniel Fasquelle, who also cited Sarkozy's "energy".

The former head of state, who has yet to formally declare his candidacy, is set to keep playing the experience card as the campaign for the November primaries heats up. But legal troubles and his own outsize personality could yet trip him up.

Once nicknamed the "hyper-president" for his kinetic style, Sarkozy claims credit for helping France and the euro zone through the global financial crisis.

But he disappointed the business community by under-achieving on reforms to revive the economy, except for a two-year increase in the official retirement age to 62.

His flashy lifestyle also antagonized many voters. While in office, he divorced his second wife, then publicly courted and married singer and former supermodel Carla Bruni, flaunting his taste for luxury yachts and expensive watches.

"It's very open," Francois Miquet-Marty of Viavoice pollsters said of the first primaries open to non-party members to select a candidate of the center-right.

"What's new is that Nicolas Sarkozy has managed to shift the lines, to get people to think he could actually win," Miquet-Marty said.