The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said he will leave politics if he loses in the forthcoming presidential elections.
The disclosure came in a report in Le Monde newspaper which suggested that Mr Sarkozy had been talking to "friends" about life after power. "If I lose, I will give up politics. Yes, that's a certainty," he was quoted as saying. "I will rebuild my life completely. You will never hear of me again."
But it later emerged that the "friends" were journalists to whom the President, who has yet to enter the race, had spoken off the record during a visit to French Guiana last weekend.
Despite poor opinion-poll ratings, officially Mr Sarkozy remains confident of winning a second term in the two-round election on 22 April and 6 May. He believes the opinion-poll lead of his principal challenger, the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, will "melt away" in February.
Unofficially, however, senior members of the President's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), were badly rattled by Mr Hollande's energetic and impressive performance at his first large campaign rally last Sunday.
Mr Sarkozy's comments on life after politics may have been intended to help his electoral chances by suggesting that he is an "ordinary man", not someone desperate to cling to power. "In any case [whether in 2012 or 2017], I am approaching the end," he was quoted as saying. "For the first time in my life, I am confronted with the end of my career."
President Sarkozy will be 57 on Saturday. He has been a full-time, professional politician since the age of 28, when he became mayor of a wealthy Paris satellite town, Neuilly-sur-Seine. He is a qualified lawyer and has previously suggested he might "return" to a profession that he has scarcely practised.
In other comments in the past, President Sarkozy has stated he would like to go on to "make a lot of money". Three years ago, he was quoted in the magazine Le Point saying that he would probably not stand again in 2012. "When you see the billions [sic] Bill Clinton is making," he said. "I would like to fill my pockets too... €150,000 a conference!"
It is doubtful, however, whether Mr Sarkozy, who speaks little English, would be able to command such high fees on the American or international lecture circuit. It is thought more likely that he would accept one of several standing offers from friends in the business world.
The President's wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, said in 2008 that she would prefer him to serve only one term. She later said she was speaking only "as a wife".
Despite high unemployment and the recent blow of the loss of France's AAA credit rating, the presidential race is far from cut and dried. Mr Sarkozy will announce new measures to boost the economy in a live television appearance on Sunday evening. He is expected to launch his campaign in late February.
Mr Hollande, 57, is predicted by recent polls to come top in the first round on 22 April with 27 to 30 per cent of the vote. Mr Sarkozy is running at around 23 per cent, closely followed by the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen (18 to 20 per cent) and the centrist candidate, François Bayrou (13 to 14 per cent). Only the top two candidates go forward to the second round.
Life after the Elysée: Sarkozy's options
Following in the footsteps of Tony Blair, who became an adviser to the American investment bank JP Morgan after leaving Downing Street, Mr Sarkozy could seek a lucrative sinecure in the world of high finance. But if he does pursue this avenue, it might be best not to bring up his threats to impose tougher regulation and special taxes in the interview.
A political memoir is the perfect retirement pursuit for a former leader. In one stroke, Mr Sarkozy can amplify his successes, play down any mistakes and settle scores with old political foes. Potential titles include Colossus and Till Debt Do Us Part.
If all else fails, Mr Sarkozy could make a foray into the music business by penning a song with his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a singer-songwriter who appeared on BBC2's Later... with Jools Holland in 2008.Reuse content