A few hours ago, Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Facebook that he would seek the presidency of his party, the UMP. He did not say outright that he wanted to run for President of the Republic again, but evidently, that is the case. His announcement is no surprise, the political elite knew it would come – nevertheless, it will be able to set the French political agenda for the weeks to come.
1. In his Facebook post, Sarkozy practically refers to “duty” – again (saying that France is in a difficult situation, therefore he has to come back to the political arena in order to help his country). He had been hinting at the idea of “duty” quite strategically after his electoral loss in 2012. This is a classical gaullist theme, by the way. Just like talking about national unity, exceeding traditional political cleavages and restoring the country’s international position is a gaullist motive, as well.
2. One might ask the question legitimately: is it alright for a former President to become a party leader again? Isn’t it derogatory? Well, in the French political system, one cannot run for president of the Republic if one has no party support. Tht is a general truth, even Charles de Gaulle had to learn it in 1965. Therefore, if Sarkozy wants to return to the Élyése Palace, he desperately needs the resources and the means of his party. As party leader, he will be able to control the selection /election of the right-wing presidential candidate for 2017 (which might also mean that he will sociologically get rid of all his potential rivals to be able to by-pass the internal election process planned for 2016).
3. The UMP, in fact, did a favor to Sarkozy. Circumstances are now ideal for him. The downfall of former UMP president JF Copé and the current transitional period created a moment where right-wing voters can feel the void. And Sarkozy tends to fill it. The end of this period is the election of the new party leader. The president of the UMP will be eleced electronically on 29 November (the runoff, if needed, will be organised on 6 December). This is the first and most important step that Sarkozy has to take in order to become head of state again. Restructuring his party and the right-wing block that he promised in the Facebook post will have to come only after that.
4. The 2017 electoral victory of Sarkozy is not guaranteed, but he is a viable candidate. According to opinion polls, 66% of UMP voters hoped that Sarkozy would announce his return, and 85% of them wanted him to run again in 2017. However, when it comes to the totality of respondents, only 36% is in favor of another Sarkozy candidacy. This is not as bad as it seems: mobilization is important, and we have three more years to go until the next presidential election.
6. For Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen, the President of the National Front is now an important adversary. According to opinion polls, she would win the first round of the presidential election this Sunday (against all adversaries) and she would come out on top in the second round as well if she ran against President Hollande. Therefore this is going to be a long electoral campaign, with the participation of several strong candidates and actors. And it has just started.