- Title: France's Sarkozy looks to primary to stage comeback
- Date: 17th November 2016
- Summary: IMAGE OF SARKOZY ON BANNER
- Embargoed: 2nd December 2016 11:22
- Keywords: Sarkozy presidential primary election president France
- Location: PARIS, NICE, CANNES, BRACHAY AND NEUILLY-SUR-SEINE, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, NICE, CANNES, BRACHAY AND NEUILLY-SUR-SEINE, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00658TZADJ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to use an upcoming primary to stage a comeback, avenging his detractors and returning to the Elysee Palace on a wave of popular fears about national security.
But his path back to power is blocked by several of his former ministers who have decided to run against him in the contest, whose first round takes place on Sunday (November 16).
Campaigning in Nice on Tuesday with some of his most fervent political allies, Sarkozy addressed a rally of excited supporters brandishing tricolour flags.
Against the backdrop of a wave of bloody Islamist militant attacks in France -- one of which targeted Nice in July -- and Europe's immigration crisis, the 61-year-old promises to get tough on immigration, defend France's secular values and revive national pride.
"This is France. Women and men are treated with strict equality. We are not in the Middle Ages, we're in France. This is France," he said in Nice.
In campaign speeches, Sarkozy vows to ban the Islamic burkini swimsuit, has ruled out special school lunches for Muslim children and told migrants gaining citizenship that their ancestors were Gauls.
The candidate has a clear strategy, according to political expert at Sciences Po university, Bruno Cautres: fish for votes in the waters of the far-right National Front.
"Sarkozy has a unique strategy which is to attract the Marine Le Pen voter, the Front National voter, and the big idea is that part, a significant part, of the Front National voters have been lost by the right wing. So the position of Sarkozy is 'Let's get these people back into the right', which is what he's trying to do," Cautres said.
The former president can rely on the votes of a hardcore group of devoted followers in his right wing "Les Republicains" party, Cautres added.
An Elabe poll for French network BFMTV published on Wednesday suggested that Sarkozy would take 41 percent of the primary votes from "Les Republicains" supporters and crowds chanting "Nicolas" invariably turn out at signings of his latest book "Tout pour la France" ("Everything for France").
Pascale Riquelme is a fan of the former president who made the trip to Nice from nearby Toulon to hear him speak, armed with pom-poms in the red, white and blue of the French flag.
"He's the only one who can save our country from collapse, unprecedented catastrophe," she said.
"Today we need someone to have the courage to straighten out our country. I fundamentally believe that with what he's shown, Sarkozy is capable of doing that and that's why he deserves this second chance," said Michel Douce.
Not everyone agrees, though, and on the streets of Paris many said he had had his chance.
"He had his time, at his second election against Francois Hollande he lost so I don't see why he would win now," Christine said on Thursday.
"I voted for Francois Hollande above all so that that man didn't get another term and my big fear is that the 'Trump effect' works in his favour because I think France deserves something other than a man like that at the top," Franck said.
The primary is open to anyone prepared to pay two euros and sign a charter of right wing values, meaning the question of who will vote remains a mystery.
For the moment, when all likely voters are included, 71 year-old former Prime Minister Alain Juppe leads the pack of seven candidates for the first round with 34 percent as compared to Sarkozy's 30 percent. But the gap between the candidates is narrowing and the campaign of Sarkozy's former prime minister Francois Fillon also appears to be gaining momentum.
The Sarkozy camp, Cautres said, is hoping for an upset.
"Sarkozy, and in particular Sarkozy's supporters, are now looking to the Trump election and saying 'After all it is possible that when no one expects that you are going to win, when the media, the pundits or the pollsters think that you're not going to win, finally you can create the surprise'," he said.
The top two candidates in Sunday's first round will face each other in a knockout round to take place on November 27, and many could unite against the former president and back his rival.
Polls show that whoever wins will face Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election, and would likely beat her thereby becoming the next president.
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