Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career has been effectively ended, after he was dealt a humiliating defeat on Sunday by his former prime minister François Fillon in the first round of the race to choose the rightwing Republican party’s candidate for the presidency next spring. Fillon, a socially conservative, free-market reformer who admires Margaret Thatcher and voted against same-sex marriage, came close to winning the nomination straight out, with around 43% of the poll. He now faces a second-round runoff against more moderate Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux who was prime minister under Jacques Chirac. The divisive former president Sarkozy suffered a humiliating defeat, knocked out of the race after he ran a hard-right campaign on French national identity, targeting Muslims and minorities.
His poor score after a campaign in which he suggested banning Muslim headscarves from universities and was forced to protest his innocence faced with several legal investigations into corrupt campaign financing, showed he had become just as much a hate figure on the right as on the left.
Fillon and Juppé now have one week to do battle over who could better unite French voters against the far-right in a country struggling with mass unemployment, economic sluggishness and the threat of terrorism.
Donald Trump’s US win has thrown the spotlight on France as the next place for a possible shake-up of the political system. Polls have consistently shown that the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, will make it to the French presidential final round runoff next May, but that it would be difficult for her to win.