Analysis: Sarkozy on the campaign trail

17th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

With over 90 percent of the votes from his party members Sarkozy has secured the support of the UMP but now faces the most difficult of challenges: winning over the nation, AFP's Hugh Schofield writes.

Newly-anointed as French presidential candidate by the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Nicolas Sarkozy has pulled off a major triumph in uniting his camp behind him but now faces the greater task of winning over the nation, analysts said Monday.

Nicolas Sarkozy ponders the challenge ahead

The 51 year-old interior minister and UMP chief was officially named as the right's champion for April elections at a party congress Sunday, and went on to deliver an hour-long televised address setting out his philosophy and programme.

Observers agreed that it was an impressive performance, in which Sarkozy secured his mastery of the party and began the process of reaching beyond it to the electorate at large.

"There is a phenomenon in progress: the right is rallying around, "said right-wing commentator Michel Garfunkiel, former editor of Valeurs Actuelles magazine.

"There is a genuine fear of the 'Sego effect'", he said – are reference to the popular Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. "People can see that Chirac and the Chirac era are over. The issue is whether Segolene can win, and there is a huge effort to stop her," he said.

For Nicolas Domenach, managing editor of the independent Marianne magazine and author of a biography of Sarkozy, the congress marked thecandidate's final victory over President Jacques Chirac -- his one-time mentor – as well as the baptismal rite for a new more consensual persona.

"In the past Sarkozy's discourse has been about division. Now it is about bringing together. He is trying to eradicate his first public persona. The irony is that in doing that, he moves back towards Chirac," Domenach said.

"Sarkozy's problem on the right was that he always risked being seen as a traitor -- someone who betrayed Chirac and Gaullism. By putting on this new face, he has managed to integrate the Gaullist idea inside the new Sarko," he said.

Sarkozy used Sunday's address to appeal beyond his party to voters of all persuasions, heaping praise on left-wing founding fathers such as Jean Jaures and refusing to attack the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

He set out a vision of a society built on the values of "work" and "respect", but sought to reassure those fearful of his over-ambitious reputation by announcing that he had "changed".

For supporters such as Gurfinkiel, the speech proved Sarkozy's vast lead over Royal in the realm of political debate -- an advantage which he said will become increasingly important as the weeks to the election go by.

"Something important is happening, which is that we have moved out of the stage of the irrational. We are coming back down to earth. Segolene Royal appeals to the irrational in people, and that is why she flies so high. But now people are starting to say: let's look at the substance," he said.

But not everyone is so certain of the prospects for the right-wing candidate.

"The difficulty for Sarkozy is that he is a good first round candidate and a terrible second round candidate. He is seen as a man who fragments, not as a man who unites," said Stephane Rozes of the polling company CSA.

In the French two round electoral system, successful candidates stakeout limited but clear political ground in round one, but are expected to rally a much broader electorate behind them in the two-way decider.

"French presidential elections are both temporal and spiritual occasions. Sarkozy has plenty of the temporal but none of the spiritual, while with

Segolene it is the other way round. Yesterday he tried to broaden his appeal -- but he does not always convince," said Rozes.

For Domenach too, Sarkozy's weakness is that he still alienates too many people.

"He scares a large part of the country. And he faces a left-wing opposition that is reassuring, feminising, close to the people -- and it can beat him. The fact that he is a good candidate is not enough. For many, he may have put on the grandma's cap, but the wolf's ears still stick out," he said.

17 January 2006

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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