Sarkozy image causes admiration and hatred

22nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the hyperactive rightwinger seeking to conquer the French presidency, is recognised as a brilliant orator and daring breaker of political taboos but struggles to win public affection.

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the hyperactive rightwinger seeking to conquer the French presidency, is recognised as a brilliant orator and daring breaker of political taboos but struggles to win public affection.

As he embarks on the most important fortnight of his career ahead of the May 6 election run-off vote, enemies are portraying him as a "mad dog" who cannot be trusted with the keys of the Elysee palace.

The 52-year-old has the urgent task of persuading the public that he is not just extraordinarily competent -- but ordinarily human.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant and the grandson of a Greek Jew, Sarkozy admits that he is not an easy person. Driven by ambition and a constant need to prove himself, he can appear intolerant and short-tempered.

"For many years I gave myself up entirely to work. I thought that by dint of hard work nothing would stand in my way," the head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) said in a revealing recent interview with Philosophie magazine.

"Because I always thought myself illegitimate -- for reasons linked to my past -- I worked harder than everyone else... In the end I realised that permanent effort and application was not enough. I discovered the underlying humanity in me that had been missing."

In several recent appearances, Sarkozy has told the public he has "changed" -- an implicit admission that previously there was an unattractive side to his character -- and friends insist that behind the cocksure exterior lies a friendly and thoughtful human being.

"The interesting thing about Nicolas is that his public image is far worse than reality. The more people get to know him, the more they like him," said  Francois Delabrosse, who manages the former interior minister's Internet site.

Sarkozy's image is a million miles from that of his erstwhile mentor -- outgoing president Jacques Chirac -- who despite criticisms of his political record never lost the French people's affection. Significantly, while Chirac is known for his love of beer and good food, Sarkozy is teetotal.

The public retains the perception of a man who is short of stature, fiercely self-confident, and plain-talking to the point -- sometimes -- of giving offence.

The famous episode when he described delinquents in the high-immigration suburbs as "racaille", or "rabble", has become an internationally recognised instance of his supposed lack of control, and a justification, for many people, of their hatred of the man.

Enemies play with the perception of Sarkozy's impulsiveness to turn it into a defect of sinister proportions.

The news magazine Marianne last week published a special edition on "the things about Sarkozy you will not see in the media," in which he is described as an unstable tyrant.

"The man is -- in some manner -- mad. And fragile. And the nature of his madness is exactly that which in the past has worked as a kind of fuel for apprentice dictators," the magazine said.

Mazarine Pingeot, daughter of late socialist president Francois Mitterrand, said that Sarkozy has a "mad dog side," and his campaign posters are regularly defaced with Hitler moustaches.

Many in France believe that what the country needs is precisely a tough-minded taboo-breaker to shake off the debilitating consensus of the last 25 years and impose much-needed reforms.

But many others are fearful of Sarkozy's divisive nature and susceptible to the widespread graffiti in the Paris metro: "Sarko = danger."

These are the people he needs urgently to reassure.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential election

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