French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy has, as expected, announced his candidacy for the conservative UMP party’s presidential nomination. With 70% support amongst the party faithful, in recent months it has looked as if the only thing that could lose him the chance to run is if incumbent Jacques Chirac opts to go for it again (though it’s very doubtful that UMP members would be silly enough to simply hand Jacques the crown once again after his recent (lack of) performance).
But, as Sarkozy starts a clampdown on far-right football hooligans following a spate of racist violence – which resulted in a fan being killed in self-defence by a black police officer protecting a passing French Jew* – from fans of the club he himself supports (which will also provide a good chance to smear fascist presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front party in the run-up to the elections), a more pressing problem for his presidential hopes continues to rumble on in the background.
Chirac’s favoured successor as President was always current Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, not Sarkozy – and, it is alleged, de Villepin was so keen to make sure of the laurel being passed over with no challenge that he set up a smear campaign accusing his rival of involvement in the (second) Clearstream Affair (effectively claiming that Sarkozy held secret bank accounts for receiving bribes) in an attempt to sabotage his bid for the UMP presidential nomination. When news of de Villepin’s apparent involvement in the scandal began to emerge (around the same time as his deeply unpopular CPE reforms), he was swiftly knocked out of the running.
Now, however, fresh allegations are beginning to emerge, stating that Sarkozy may have met the man at the heart of the second Clearstream Affair more than two years ago – around about the time, in July 2004, that allegations first began to appear about senior French politicians receiving secret kickbacks.
Quite where these latest revelations/allegations may go is anyone’s guess. But considering that perceived involvement in Clearstream dodginess was one of the factors in finishing off de Villepin’s campaign, it looks like there could be a chance that the expected race between Sarkozy and Socialist Party candidate SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal may not end up quite so close as recent polls would suggest – especially not if centrist Royal can continue to woo the moderate right…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the campaigns in the run-up to the French presidential election, the first round of which isn’t due until 22nd April, are going to be very, very interesting…
Update: From the comments, an English-language blog devoted to the French elections – looking very promising so far.
* edited due to earlier mistake