Tough-talking Sarkozy seeks 'clean break'

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the frontrunner for the French presidency, campaigns for a "clean break" from the politics of the past but his tough talk sparks fears he will divide rather than unite the nation.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy, the frontrunner for the French presidency, campaigns for a "clean break" from the politics of the past but his tough talk sparks fears he will divide rather than unite the nation.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek Jewish origin, he has twice served as interior minister, as finance minister and, since 2004, president of the rightwing ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Polls ahead of Sunday's first round of voting show that "Sarko" has a popular touch: many people like his plain-talking style and firm line on law and order.

But the polls also expose his biggest weakness: more than other mainstream politicians he has polarised the public.

Much-reported remarks -- made just before 2005 riots across the country -- describing young delinquents as "racaille" or rabble, coupled with more recent talk of setting up a ministry for immigration and national identity, convinced many on the left that he is little more than a presentable version of the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Enemies say the 52-year-old is a divisive character who has no chance of uniting this country of 60 million people behind the many reforms he says are needed.

Sarkozy retorts that such personal attacks were made against former presidents such as Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand during their election campaigns and that "this was a good sign."

He advocates economic reforms that would make France more like the "Anglo-Saxon" world: a liberalised economy, the curbing of trade union powers, the sell-off of public housing, cuts in the number of civil servants and private investment in the university system.

As interior minister he set up the country's first official Islamic body, and he argues for US-style affirmative action to help disadvantaged black and Arab-origin populations.

He opposes Turkey's membership of the European Union and has said he wants France to improve its ties with the United States -- leading the opposition Socialist party to describe him as an "American neo-con with a French passport."

Born in January 1955, Sarkozy had a privileged upbringing in the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly, where he later served as mayor from 1983 to 2002.

He studied law -- and later worked as a lawyer -- but notably did not attend the National Administration School (ENA) that for decades has provided France with many of its top politicians and business leaders.

Sarkozy likes to point out that, unlike his main rival, the Socialist Segolene Royal, he is not a member of this elite.

Twice married, he has three children -- the third by his current wife Cecilia with whom his stormy relationship has received widespread coverage in the gossip magazines.

Cecilia has been noticeably absent from Sarkozy's side during the election campaign, prompting Jean-Marie Le Pen to allude this week to rumours of fresh marital troubles.

His political career began in the 1970s as a supporter of the outgoing President Jacques Chirac, who initially saw him as a possible successor. But they fell out after Sarkozy backed a rival in the 1995 presidential election.

With Chirac's reelection in 2002 Sarkozy was overlooked for the post of prime minister and instead took over at interior, where he began preparing his bid for the 2007 presidential election.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article