Slim-chance Sarkozy narrows gap

By Herve Rouach, AFP

PARIS — Is French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the verge of a record comeback? He still trails Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, but in just three months of intense campaigning he has dragged himself back in the race for the presidency. When French voters go to the polls on April 22 for the first round of the presidential election, the right-wing incumbent is all but certain to win a place in the run-off against front-leader Hollande on May 6. As recently as the New Year, Sarkozy was languishing with the lowest approval ratings in modern French history. He was not even sure of surviving the cut in the first round and faced defeat by 60 percent to 40 if he made the run-off. Now with less than two weeks to go, borne along by events and an aggressive campaign, he can legitimately hope to come on top in the first round and to mount a credible challenge to Hollande in the second. “I can feel the wave building,” he declared, a quotation that served as the front page headline of the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, next to a beaming picture of the reborn 57-year-old candidate. His time in the doldrums seems not to have knocked the arrogance out of him. “I’m going to win and I’ll tell you why. He’s no good and people are starting to see it. Hollande is useless,” he told Le Monde last week. The Socialist, also 57, tried to rise above the “playground” insult, another example of the pair’s wildly different styles. Hollande is affable rather than provocative, even promising to be a “normal president.” Sarkozy’s response to Hollande’s long period of dominance in the polls was unexpected. Rather than try to recapture the centre ground that entrusted him with office in 2007, Sarkozy tacked sharply to the right. “We have too many foreigners in France,” he declared, bringing his rhetoric on immigration, restoring European border controls, expelling extremist Muslims and on trade protectionism closer to that of Marine Le Pen’s far-right.