Triumphant Sarkozy opens bid to oust Chirac

6th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 6 (AFP) - The rising star of French politics, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has opened his bid to take over from his arch-rival President Jacques Chirac after a barnstorming weekend performance at the annual conference of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

PARIS, Sept 6 (AFP) - The rising star of French politics, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has opened his bid to take over from his arch-rival President Jacques Chirac after a barnstorming weekend performance at the annual conference of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).  

The 49-year-old politician was given a series of standing ovations at the gathering in the Alpine resort of Avoriaz, where he set out his ideas to overhaul the party and turn it into a vote-winning machine for the presidential election in 2007.  

By far the most popular figure on the political centre-right, Sarkozy has been assured the presidency of the UMP after Chirac last week bowed to the inevitable and gave his blessing to the finance minister's candidacy for the post, which comes up in November.  

With control over the party finances and senior nominations, Sarkozy will be in prime position to launch a challenge for the Elysee palace in two and a half years' time - by which time Chirac, who has himself pointedly not ruled out running for a third term, will be 74.  

But in the meantime "Sarko" - as he is universally known - will have to tread a narrow path, avoiding the charge of sowing discord on the centre-right but at the same time emphasising the change of direction which he hopes to represent.  

At the week-end conference Sarkozy was careful to strike a balance, thanking Chirac for his support but insisting on the right to develop new ideas inside the UMP.  

"I want to be the guarantor of our unity, but also of our freedom," he told party faithful. "Supporting the government is a duty in which we have never failed. But support must stem from commitment, not from constraint or force of habit."   

The minister entered the hall American-style accompanied by his wife Cecilia and son Louis to the sound of pumping music. Young supporters wore T-shirts reading "Sarkozy High Energy" and chanted "Sarkozy - President!"  

Sarkozy shot into the public eye in 2002 when he entered the government as interior minister. Hyperactive and a consummate media operator, he has made no secret of his impatience with the Chirac generation of leaders and his determination to forge a new style of right-wing politics.  

After several months of guerrilla war with the Chirac camp, the two sides drew up a truce last week. In return for Chirac effectively giving up control over the party that was invented as his political vehicle, Sarkozy agreed to stand down as finance minister as soon as he takes over in November.  

Chirac supporters hope that without a position in the cabinet, Sarkozy will be deprived of the oxygen of publicity on which he thrives. From being a popular action-man of government, he will become a party ideas-man - with far less appeal to the voters.  

But a huge majority of UMP members see in Sarkozy their salvation after two crashing defeats in European and regional elections this year, and believe that his headline-grabbing personality and provocative new policies will ensure more positive coverage.  

As for the opposition Socialist party, it is painfully aware that Sarkozy is in danger of usurping its role as Chirac's main opponent. Its reaction has been to portray the future UMP leader as a dangerous "hyper-liberal" who would lurch France dangerously to the right.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

 

 

 

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