Sarkozy on de­fen­sive in pres­i­den­tial de­bate

Ex-prez vows to jail Is­lamists, ban burkini

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS: Ni­co­las Sarkozy was forced onto the de­fen­sive Thurs­day over his le­gal woes in the first de­bate of rightwing ri­vals for the French pres­i­dency, in­clud­ing the man tipped to lead the coun­try, Alain Juppe. For­mer pres­i­dent Sarkozy is trail­ing ex-prime min­is­ter Juppe, 71, in the race for the rightwing nom­i­na­tion, to be de­cided in a highly an­tic­i­pated Novem­ber pri­mary that is ex­pected to pro­duce the next pres­i­dent of France. With the ji­hadist threat up­per­most in vot­ers’ minds fol­low­ing a se­ries of deadly at­tacks, the pri­mary cam­paign has tipped over into pop­ulism, with Sarkozy par­tic­u­larly ac­cused of chas­ing af­ter far­right Na­tional Front (FN) vot­ers.

But com­pared with the vit­ri­olic ex­changes be­tween US pres­i­den­tial ri­vals Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump the tone of the first tele­vised de­bate among the seven rightwing can­di­dates was re­spect­ful. Sarkozy, 61, none­the­less found him­self on the de­fen­sive over the var­i­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions in which he has been en­tan­gled since los­ing his 2012 re­elec­tion bid. “Af­ter 37 years in pol­i­tics my crim­i­nal record is clean,” he in­sisted, vis­i­bly ex­as­per­ated.

“Do you think I would take part in this cam­paign if I had any­thing on my con­science?” he added, claim­ing he had been hounded by in­ves­ti­ga­tors and sub­jected to “slan­der” dur­ing probes for in­flu­ence-ped­dling and sus­pected il­le­gal fund­ing of his failed 2012 re-elec­tion cam­paign, among oth­ers. Thurs­day’s de­bate was the first of three among the can­di­dates for the Nov 2027 pri­mary, the win­ner of which is ex­pected to go head-to-head with FN leader Marine Le Pen in the sec­ond round of the elec­tion in May.

The for­mer leader of Sarkozy’s Repub­li­cans party, Jean-Fran­cois Cope, said he had hoped Sarkozy would be a re­former when he came to power in 2007 on a prom­ise to shake up the es­tab­lished or­der. “Ten years ago, I and mil­lions of French peo­ple hoped for the change that Ni­co­las Sarkozy of­fered for our coun­try. “That change un­for­tu­nately never took place,” he said, ac­cus­ing Sarkozy of duck­ing the hard choices.

Sarkozy ar­gued his hand had been con­strained by “the worst (eco­nomic) cri­sis the world had ex­pe­ri­enced since 1929” and vowed “strong, en­er­getic” lead­er­ship if he re­turned to power af­ter five years of So­cial­ist rule. Sarkozy has cam­paigned on a pop­ulist plat­form of pro­tect­ing French na­tional iden­tity, curb­ing im­mi­gra­tion and giv­ing the “si­lent ma­jor­ity” more of a say in pol­i­tics by hold­ing ref­er­en­dums on di­vi­sive is­sues.

On Thurs­day he re­it­er­ated his pledge to jail­ing hun­dreds of sus­pected Is­lamist rad­i­cals, with­out prior au­tho­riza­tion from a judge and ban the Is­lamic burkini swim­suit. Juppe, who has ac­cused him of “giv­ing the FN a leg up”, has taken a more mod­er­ate, in­clu­sive line. “I want to lead you along a path of hope,” the long-time Bordeaux mayor said. Polls show Juppe lead­ing Sarkozy by be­tween eight and 14 per­cent­age points, with the five other can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Cope and Sarkozy’s for­mer prime min­is­ter Fran­cois Fil­lon trail­ing be­hind.

— AFP

LA PLAINE-SAINT-DENIS, France : French law­maker and can­di­date for the rightwing Les Repub­li­cains (LR) party pri­maries Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet looks at for­mer French pres­i­dent and can­di­date dur­ing the first tele­vised de­bate be­tween the seven can­di­dates at the stu­dios of French pri­vate tele­vi­sion chan­nel TF1 on Thurs­day.

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