PARIS (AFP) – It’s one of the worst kept secrets in French politics: Nicolas Sarkozy, who leapt to power in 2007 before suffering a humbling defeat five years later, is poised to make his comeback this week.
After several years of ‘will he-won’t he’, France’s former “bling-bling” leader is expected to announce his return to the cut-throat political front-line despite being directly or indirectly involved in at least seven graft investigations.
The energetic 59-year-old – who inspires hate and adoration in equal measure – is due to announce, any time between Friday and Sunday, that he is standing for the presidency of the centre-right opposition UMP party.
A political heavyweight, the man who once told journalists they would never hear from him again if he lost the 2012 polls, will re-emerge just as his one-time nemesis Francois Hollande struggles to contain an economic crisis that has seen his popularity sink to record lows.
But experts warn that a Sarkozy comeback will be no easy feat.
“He had gradually forged the image of a wise man who stayed on the edge of the river and who only made comments every now and then,” says Pascal Perrineau from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.
“But if he becomes UMP president, he will be asked for his opinion on everything every morning. There is a risk he will be worn down.”
Sarkozy has largely remained out of the public eye since his electoral defeat, only making appearances in carefully orchestrated outings such as at the concerts of his singer-wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
He has been working the highly-paid conference circuit in New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Doha and Amman.
But the son of a Hungarian immigrant still remains hooked on public office.
Many in the embattled and divided UMP party are loyally devoted to Sarkozy, but he also has a lot of rivals within.
Chief among these is Alain Juppe, a popular politician who served as defence and then foreign minister under Sarkozy and has announced he will stand for UMP primaries planned for 2016, with a view to running for president the following year.
Polls suggest Juppe is the favourite among the French even if Sarkozy remains the most popular within his own camp.
Father-of-four Sarkozy will also have to juggle ongoing investigations that involve him in one form or another.