PARIS (Reuters) – Nicolas Sarkozy won the leadership of the conservative UMP on Saturday, a potential step towards a bid to be French president for a second time, but his victory was not decisive enough to cow his rivals in the party.
After losing the presidency to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012, Sarkozy made a storming comeback in September, although recent polls showed his popularity among members of the crisis-torn UMP wavering.
Sarkozy won 64.5 per cent of the vote. Analysts had said before the vote that he needed at least 70 per cent to see off rivals and become the party’s undisputed champion for the presidential battle in 2017.
He scored 85 per cent when he last won the leadership, in 2004.
Alain Juppe, a UMP heavyweight who has said he wants to be its presidential candidate in 2017, was not backing down.
“I am ready to help him of course if we take the course I have set out, rallying the right and the centre,” he told reporters after the result.
“We will see for the (presidential) primaries. That’s not the subject. The opposite of vigilance is what? It’s going to sleep? I am not going to go to sleep.”
Francois Fillon, Sarkozy’s other main potential rival for the UMP presidential ticket, took a similar line.
“Unity does not mean submission,” he said in a statement. “For my part I will defend my convictions.”
Sarkozy said the campaign had been “dignified” and took comfort in what he said was a record turnout, calling it in comments on his Facebook page “the best response to two years of internal quarrels and divisions”.A