Election chaos deepens Sarkozy's woes
Chaos deepened in Nicolas Sarkozy's political stronghold, as the French president's plunging poll numbers fuelled fears of a looming election disaster
PARIS, February 13, 2008 - Chaos deepened in Nicolas Sarkozy's political
stronghold on Tuesday, as the French president's plunging poll numbers fuelled
fears of a looming election disaster for his right-wing camp.
As the countdown begins to March municipal polls seen as a referendum on
Sarkozy's first nine months in power, an election fiasco in the Paris suburb
of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where Sarkozy was mayor for 19 years, has added to his
Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) said Tuesday it had
given up altogether on fielding a candidate for mayor in Neuilly, after an
imbroglio that saw the president's own son oust his chosen contender for the
Elysee spokesman David Martinon threw in the towel Monday after he was
publicly dropped by the 21-year-old Jean Sarkozy.
Sources close to the Elysee said Jean was acting on his father's orders,
after a secret poll showed Martinon losing the town, but the episode was
derided as a "farce" by the French press and the opposition.
"Is Sarkozy losing his touch?" wrote the left-wing Liberation newspaper,
saying the "prince" had failed to impose his candidate in "the heart of the
kingdom... the town the UMP could not lose."
France's richest town, Neuilly voted 86 percent in favour of Sarkozy in
last year's presidential race, earning it the nickname "Sarkoland".
The affair is an unwelcome embarrassment for Sarkozy, currently on a trip
to French Guiana, as he battles a collapse in popularity and unwelcome
revelations about his private life.
A new IPSOS-Le Point survey showed his approval rate hitting the lowest
point since his election at 39 percent.
"This time there is no ignoring the alarm bells," wrote Le Parisien
Many right-wing deputies fear the president's unpopularity, and the
unruliness in their camp will cost them their second jobs as mayors or local
councillors in next month's election.
Prime Minister François Fillon -- whose poll ratings have held up better in
the polls -- said on Tuesday the UMP and its allies stood by the president.
"We are right behind the president of the republic, because he has the
legitimacy to carry out reforms, and he has the will and determination to
break down conservative barriers," Fillon said.
But in half a dozen Paris districts and a dozen other towns, UMP dissidents
have defied the party line to launch rival campaigns, from the Riviera city of
Nice or the eastern cities of Mulhouse and Metz.
In Neuilly, the UMP was forced to throw its weight behind a dissident
pro-Sarkozy candidate, Jean Fromentin.
Adding to the confusion, local UMP heavyweight Jean Teulle -- who had
struck out with Jean Sarkozy at the weekend -- said he would still seek
election, even without the party's support.
But UMP secretary general Patrick Devedjian quashed any suggestion Jean
Sarkozy himself could run.
"Jean Sarkozy has a lot of talent, he is an intelligent, sensitive boy who
loves politics and has a talent for it," the party leader said.
But he highlighted the son's young age, saying "his time has not yet come."
"In a republic jobs are earned through merit, through work, not by
inheritance," he added.
Sarkozy's tumble in the polls -- losing 19 points since December -- is
blamed on overexposure of his romance with France's new first lady Carla
Bruni, which has jarred with a darkening national mood.
French voters are growing increasingly concerned about the state of the
economy, and impatient to see the results of Sarkozy's vaunted reforms --
which he promised would kickstart growth and boost incomes.
The saga over his private life took a new twist last week when Sarkozy took
legal action against a magazine website that alleged he text-messaged his
ex-wife Cecilia offering to call off his wedding to Bruni if she came back.
The left-leaning Nouvel Observateur magazine says it stands by its story.