PARIS (AFP) – Bruised by a humiliating election loss and ensnared in a tangle of legal woes, when Nicolas Sarkozy vowed he was moving on from politics, French voters thought they had seen the last of him.
But two and a half years later, his parting shot that “you won’t hear about me anymore” is a distant memory as Sarkozy, back with a vengeance, vies to win back control of his opposition UMP party.
The party leadership election is the first obstacle in Sarkozy’s race back to the Elysee to reclaim the keys from President Francois Hollande in 2017.
With much fanfare, the man with the ex-supermodel wife and the “bling-bling” nickname – referring to his flashy style – swept back onto the political stage in September, promising to “save” France from political and economic crisis.
Undeterred by a morass of legal difficulties, the energetic 59-year-old put an end to the worst-kept secret in French politics by announcing on his Facebook page that he was a candidate to lead his conservative UMP party.
Loathed and loved in equal measure, his return has shaken up French politics and polarised members of a party already in disarray but his comeback is largely seen as having fallen flat.
Pollsters Odoxa said that while in October, 73 per cent of UMP supporters backed his claim for party chief, this had fallen to 63 per cent by last week.
“Sarkozy, although he is a very divisive politician, is clearly very much liked,” said Andrew Knapp, an expert in French politics at Britain’s University of Reading.
But before Sarkozy can even think of taking on Hollande – the only president in history more unpopular than he was – he must first stave off UMP rivals in 2016 primaries.