Green TV star joins race to unseat Sarkozy in 2012

A popular television environmentalist, Nicolas Hulot, has joined the rush of candidates for next year's presidential election – further complicating Nicolas Sarkozy's route to winning a second term.

However, an undaunted Mr Sarkozy joined in the election fever and gave his clearest indication to date that he will run next April.

Despite disastrous opinion polls and a possible splintering of the centre-right vote, Mr Sarkozy told his parliamentary supporters yesterday he had a "good feeling" about 2012.

Mr Hulot is a boyish, shaggy-haired 55-year-old who took over Jacques Cousteau's mantle as TV's adventurer-in-chief in the late 1980s. He has converted himself into an environmental campaigner in recent years and is a hugely popular public figure.

He said yesterday he was seeking office for the first time "to open the door to the future... and change the economic model which is poisoning our societies".

The presenter could attract votes in the multi-candidate first round of the presidential election from across the political spectrum. His chances of reaching the two-candidate second round are slender, but a strong run by Mr Hulot could splinter the "mainstream" vote and push either Mr Sarkozy or the Socialist candidate, as yet unknown, out of the run-off in early May 2012.

Although he has attracted some criticism from the Green wing for his former prolific use on TV of helicopters and jets, Mr Hulot is now at pains to present himself as a radical economic alternative.

Recent opinion polls have suggested the new far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, is running neck-and-neck with Mr Sarkozy and all the leading candidates of the centre-left. Some polls suggest she could reach the second round – as her father did in 2002.

Mr Sarkozy's chances were further damaged last week when his former centrist environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said he too might run for president.

The ex-prime minister and fierce opponent of Mr Sarkozy, Dominique de Villepin, will make a statement on his intentions today.

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