Sarkozy Comes Under Fire From His Own Party After Regional Vote

  • Lieutenants question policy of trying to attract FN voters
  • Juppe would get more votes in 2017 election, poll shows

Days after leading his party to a narrow victory in last Sunday’s regional elections, Nicolas Sarkozy is increasingly being criticized by members of his political movement, a threat to his bid to run again for the French presidency.

Close lieutenants and a former prime minister from Sarkozy’s Republicans party have accused him of veering too far to the right. They especially disagreed with the former president’s refusal to cut deals with President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party to block Marine Le Pen’s anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front in the regional vote.

The Republicans won control of seven regions, out of 13 in France. The Socialists won five and a local list won in Corsica. In three of the regions, the Republicans only prevailed because the Socialists withdrew their candidates in the second round, to keep the National Front from winning. Sarkozy refused to do the same, even in regions where his candidates had no chance but could have contributed to a National Front victory. He said he was equally committed to defeating the Socialists and the National Front.

Snowball Effect

“Sarkozy is no longer their natural leader, because he may not give them a victory in 2017,” said Emmanuel Riviere, a pollster for TNS Sofres. “There’s a snowball effect, the more that people come out to criticize him openly. Party leaders have heard from their voters during the regional campaigns that he isn’t what they want.”

Sarkozy, 60, is seeking to win back France’s presidency after his 2012 defeat by Hollande. At least three party rivals -- former Prime Ministers Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon and former minister Bruno Le Maire -- are running against him in the Republicans’ primaries, due next year.

Since the election, three of the newly elected regional presidents from the Republicans have criticized Sarkozy’s handling of the campaign. A local party chief, Jean-Rene Lecerf, said he would suspend his membership in the Republicans to protest the direction of party policy.

“Since our 2012 defeat, our party has not been re-invented or re-created,” Fillon, Sarkozy’s prime minister for five years, said at the opening of his campaign headquarters this week, according to Le Parisien daily. "Our political positions have just been adapting to circumstances.”

Juppe Margin

After Sarkozy this week fired the vice-president of the party, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, for criticizing his leadership, party elders rushed to her defense. A TNS Sofres poll for Le Figaro Wednesday said 31 percent of respondents would vote for Juppe in the first round if he were the Republicans’ candidate in a presidential election, compared with 26 percent for Sarkozy. Juppe would beat Le Pen 70 percent to 30 percent in a runoff, compared with 64 percent to 36 percent for Sarkozy, the poll said.

Xavier Bertrand, who led the Republicans list in the north and Christian Estrosi, who led it in the south, both thanked Socialist voters for contributing to their victory and questioned Sarkozy’s call to equally defeat the Socialists and the National Front.

“The further we go to the right, the further we boost the National Front,” Estrosi said in an interview with Paris Match this week. “Instead of playing the FN on it home turf, I’d rather chase them off the field.”

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