Sarkozy's son dumps Elysee spokesman in hometown battle
Nicolas Sarkozy was caught up in a backstabbing intrigue as his son forced out the top Elysée spokesman as candidate for mayor in the Sarkozy political stronghold
PARIS, France, February 12, 2008 - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was
caught up in a backstabbing intrigue on Monday as his son forced out the top
Elysee spokesman as candidate for mayor in the Sarkozy political stronghold.
Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon, 36, officially threw in the towel
Monday in the battle for the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. He
said he offered his resignation to the president, who refused it.
Martinon was personally chosen by Sarkozy to head up the ruling Union for a
Popular Movement (UMP) list in Neuilly, where the president was mayor from
1983 to 2002, in the heartland of the French right.
Sarkozy sent his second son Jean, a 21-year-old scooter-riding student, to
work on Martinon's campaign.
But Jean Sarkozy and two local UMP allies announced Sunday they were
setting up a rival campaign to Martinon, after a secret poll showed him losing
"The conditions were no longer in place for me to lead the campaign for the
municipal elections," a strained-looking Martinon told reporters Monday.
France's richest town, where the 53-year-old president grew up and forged
his political career, Neuilly -- nicknamed "Sarkoland" -- gave 86 percent of
its votes to Sarkozy in last year's presidential race.
The fiasco brought fresh embarrassment for the president, already battling
a severe slump in the polls and unwelcome revelations about his private life
as the countdown begins to the March municipal elections.
"What is going on? 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".
"Sarkoland just turned into Sarkodallas, a merciless world, even for young
Sarkozy proteges," mocked the Midi Libre.
"The soap opera is turning into a farce, a tragi-comedy," charged the
leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Francois Hollande.
"What kind of a republic is this?" he asked, while centrist leader Francois
Bayrou attacked what he called the Sarkozy "monarchy".
Sarkozy has plunged to a low of 41 percent in the polls, a tumble blamed on
overexposure of his romance with France's new first lady Carla Bruni, jarring
with the darkening mood of ordinary French people concerned about the economy.
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.
Le Parisien suggested Sarkozy had called a last-minute prime time televised
speech on the adoption of the European Union's new reform treaty Sunday night
to limit coverage of the latest fiasco.
The president left France Sunday on a two-day trip to French Guiana.
Many right-wing deputies are reportedly "very angry" about the Neuilly
incident, fearing the president's unpopularity will cost them their second
jobs as mayors or local councillors in the March vote.
UMP leader Patrick Devedjian acknowledged the need to clear up the
Asked whether the tall, blonde Jean Sarkozy would run for the post of
mayor, Devedjian replied that he had "a lot of talent, he has certainly
inherited his father's political qualities, he is very pleasant, he does a
Martinon was "parachuted" in by the UMP leadership and the move from above
went down badly in the town of 60,000 people.
"Out in the field, he's no good. He blushes, he mumbles, he even seems
afraid. And with Jean Sarkozy as his support, it feels like living in a Banana
Republic," Le Parisien quoted a local novelist, named as Yves, as saying.
Faced with the prospect of a humiliating defeat in Neuilly, but unwilling
to withdraw his support from Martinon, some commentators suggested Sarkozy had
called in his son to do his dirty work.
Le Monde ran a front-page cartoon of a young Jean Sarkozy thrusting daggers
into Martinon's back -- to words of encouragement from his father. "I taught
him everything," the president is caricatured as saying.