Sarkozy's personality under attack in campaign

12th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 12, 2007 (AFP) - Quick-tempered, arrogant, divisive, even dangerous: French presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy is facing mounting attacks on his personality as he heads into the first round of voting in just over a week.

PARIS, April 12, 2007 (AFP) - Quick-tempered, arrogant, divisive, even dangerous: French presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy is facing mounting attacks on his personality as he heads into the first round of voting in just over a week.

Sarkozy's rivals in the April 22 race have zeroed in on what is widely seen as the right-wing candidate's Achilles heel: his inability to shed the tough-guy reputation earned during his days as interior minister.

A new tell-all book went on sale in stores this week by former minister Azouz Begag, who recounts that Sarkozy threatened to "smash" his face in after the minister criticised his handling of the suburban riots in late 2005.

Begag wrote that a furious Sarkozy called him on the telephone, yelling: "You're an asshole, a disloyal bastard! I'm going to smash your face."

Sarkozy has dismissed the entire account as a lie, but the book's release came at a sensitive time for the 52-year-old candidate of the governing party, who is expected to win enough votes to stand in the May 6 runoff vote.

Polls have repeatedly shown that some voters are uneasy with Sarkozy's blunt-talking, results-driven approach, seen as early warning signs of an authoritarian streak.

"I think that he does worry voters," said journalist Catherine Nay, author of a best-selling biography of Sarkozy.

"The French see him as ambitious, someone who entered politics 20 years ago with his sights set high, who never deviated from his path and mapped out his own strategy," said Nay.

"When you have this type of fired-up personality, your strengths can become your weaknesses," she said.

Even Sarkozy's inner circle admits that the candidate can be impetuous, but they see his bulldozer personality as an asset in the drive to shake up the world of stodgy French politics.

"He can be brutal in the way that he expresses himself, but people would be wrong to doubt his humanity," said Simone Veil, the former president of the European parliament who is backing Sarkozy.

"Nicolas is nice," she said in a recent interview to the Jewish Tribune, praising him as a "loyal friend" whose qualities would serve the nation well.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant and French mother of half-Jewish Greek origin, Sarkozy is promising to lead France through "deep changes" by tackling such touchstone issues as immigration and reforming the welfare state.

Animosity against Sarkozy is strongest in the suburbs where the former interior minister is considered an enemy of Arab and African immigrants after he called young troublemakers "racaille" or rabble.

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou point to Sarkozy's status as persona non grata in the suburbs to chip away at his credibility, saying France needs a president who will be a unifying force.

When Sarkozy suggested in a magazine interview that he was "inclined to think" that paedophilia was determined by genes, Royal accused him of making "very dangerous" remarks that revealed his "brutality" and a "very alarming view of humanity."

After sparring with Sarkozy over rioting in a Paris train station last month, Royal complained that the candidate had "lost his cool" and suggested that this was conduct unbecoming a future president.

Sarkozy has often been lampooned as a hothead, notably in the television programme "Les Guignols," the French version of the British Spitting Image satire.

The latex puppet of Sarkozy is often seen in sketches, making a Herculean effort to remain calm, but he invariably throws a tantrum and starts beating up the news anchor for asking questions.

Sarkozy makes no apologies for his tough-as-nails persona, showing as much when asked in a recent television interview about the apprehension that he inspired, compared to Royal's reassuring smile and the country-boy image of Bayrou, who is often photographed at the wheel of his tractor.

"We are talking about the election of the president of the republic," Sarkozy shot back. "It's not a question of Mrs Royal's smile or Mr Bayrou's tractor. We are talking about the one who will be at the helm of the fifth most powerful nation in the world."

On the Internet, a raft of websites are promoting the "Anyone But Sarkozy" stance, portraying the candidate as the worst possible choice for the presidency.

As the campaign heads into the final stretch, the weekly L'Express summed up the challenge facing Sarkozy as that of shaking off such hostility.

Sarkozy "is not what he would like to be: a candidate loved by the French, having convinced them that he has changed, that he embodies the country," it wrote.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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