Nicolas Sarkozy, who a year ago said he was quitting politics, is making something of a comeback.
For the first time since he became the only French president in more than 30 years to fail to win re-election, Sarkozy will tonight attend a gathering of his political party.
Sarkozy’s meeting today with leaders of the Union for a Popular Movement Party follows a campaign-finance decision by France’s constitutional court to not reimburse 11 million euros ($14 million) the party spent on election expenses.
While stopping short of a formal return to politics, Sarkozy’s attendance tonight comes as polls increasingly show that UMP supporters want him to challenge Francois Hollande, the least popular president in French history, in the next elections in 2017.
Sixty-seven percent of UMP supporters want Sarkozy as the party’s candidate, well ahead of 13 percent for the next most popular choice, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, according to a CSA poll published last week. The poll surveyed 2,010 people, including 695 UMP supporters.
For the entire French population, 40 percent want Sarkozy to run in 2017 and 59 percent don’t, according to an Ifop poll for Journal du Dimanche yesterday. The poll questioned 1,005 people.
Sarkozy, who was elected in 2007, said he was leaving politics after losing his re-election bid to Hollande in May 2012 by 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent. He was the second French president to a lose re-election bid since World War II after former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing's 1981 defeat.
Since then, he’s given private speeches to business groups around the world, not taking any fixed roles.
Last week, the constitutional court upheld a decision by campaign-funding regulators that Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign spent more than it was allowed, making the party ineligible for public financing.
“I want to stress the following: that the fact of over-spending, which we contest, by 400,000 euros on a budget of 22 million, had the effect of denying the UMP 11 million euros of public money,” party leader Jean-Francois Cope said in a statement today. “I have spoken to Nicolas Sarkozy and we agreed that faced with this threat, our political family must be a block, as we must always in such testing moments.”
The party was riven by an inconclusive leadership contest between Fillon and Cope last November that took a month to settle.
The UMP’s website now carries request for donations. UMP lawmaker Henri Guaino told TF1 television today that the party has raised 2 million euros so far. According to the Journal du Dimanche, the UMP has debts of 55 million euros. The press office of the UMP declined to comment.
In a posting on his Facebook (FB:US) page -- his first since March -- Sarkozy said the constitutional court’s decision “endangers a party that must prepare the necessary alternative to Socialism.”
Sarkozy said last week he was quitting the French constitutional council after the body upheld the campaign-funding decision, Agence France-Presse reported.
During a state visit to Tunisia last week, Hollande said Sarkozy should show more “respect” for the constitutional court.
“No one can put in doubt the decisions of this institution without putting all institutions in doubt,” he said during a press conference.
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