History against Sarkozy as he starts re-election bid

France's most unpopular president of recent times must defy the polls if he is to defeat Socialist rival


A combative Nicolas Sarkozy last night began the greatest uphill battle of any incumbent French leader of recent times.

Confirming his candidature for a second term live on television, President Sarkozy presented himself as an experienced statesman and a "Frenchman like any other" facing an untried and élitist Socialist, the front-runner François Hollande.

"This is the first true election of the 21st century," Mr Sarkozy said. "It is the first in which France will be entering a new world. I'm going to meet the French people and I will have things to tell them and let them choose. Do you want a weak France? Or a strong France that can protect you? I want to go among them like the Frenchman that I am, a Frenchman like any other."

Ten weeks before the first round of voting on 22 April, Mr Sarkozy, 57, is more unpopular than any previous president seeking re-election in the 56 years of the Fifth Republic. Voter anger has been fuelled by the financial crisis but there is also widespread revulsion against the brash personality of Mr Sarkozy and the many unproductive zig-zags of his five years in office.

Although he has introduced some important reforms, Mr Sarkozy is seen as having behaved erratically and selfishly in office, governing for his family and friends. Mr Sarkozy's strategists have concluded that running a populist campaign is his only chance of reeling in the likeable, inoffensive Mr Hollande, 57, and beating off a challenge from the modernised, rejuvenated and feminised far right of Marine Le Pen, 43.

Various other approaches have been test-marketed, without obvious success, in recent weeks as Mr Sarkozy sought to delay his declaration and campaign from within the Élysée Palace. He has proposed a "blood, sweat and tears" economic policy, based on higher VAT, lower payroll taxes and longer working hours.

He has recruited Chancellor Angela Merkel as his de facto "running mate" to persuade voters that any change of leadership would destroy efforts to rescue the euro. Mr Hollande's stubborn popularity finally forced Mr Sarkozy to bring forward his official declaration by three weeks. His strategists fear that a campaign devoted to deficits, debts, spending cuts and taxes would send the nation to sleep and allow Mr Hollande to win by default. They plan instead to borrow tunes from the American electoral songbook, especially George W Bush's successful re-election campaign in 2004. They will try to "paint" Mr Hollande as the effete, inexperienced candidate of an urban, leftist, media élite, oblivious to the real problems of crime, immigration and unemployment.

The President said last night that, if elected, he would short-circuit the political and trade union "élites" and "restore the final word to the French people". Issues such as tougher rules on illegal immigration or the long-term unemployed would be decided by referendums.

Mr Hollande is running at 30 to 28 per cent in the first round opinion polls, Mr Sarkozy at around 24 to 23 per cent and Ms Le Pen at 20 to 18 per cent. Polls suggest that Mr Hollande would defeat Mr Sarkozy in the second round on 6 May by the biggest landslide in the history of the Fifth Republic.

But Mr Sarkozy is a powerful campaigner. As one political commentator said, he is "the kind of bridge player who is brilliant at bidding but hopeless as playing his cards". After five years of muddled playing, Mr Sarkozy is back to his favoured bidding stage.

Suggested Topics
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Primary Teachers needed for supply in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: We are looking to rec...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments