France's Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, formally clinched the
ruling conservatives' presidential nomination Sunday, pushing this
pivotal election race for a discouraged nation into high gear.
The governing UMP party announced that Sarkozy had been endorsed
by nearly 70 percent of registered party members in a vote. His was
the only name on the list after he wore down or won over his
potential rivals in recent months. Sarkozy now faces a tight race
against the top contender on the left, Socialist Segolene Royal,
for the elections in April and May.
Sarkozy thanked his supporters, saying: "I do not have the right
to fail," in a speech before tens of thousands packed into a Paris
conference hall. The anointment at a big-budget, American-style
bash lands the dogged, divisive son of a Hungarian immigrant just
one step away from a job he has coveted for much of his life.
The next three months may prove bruising for him and Royal both
must work hard to keep their parties united, and win over both
moderates and extremes to come out on top.
Whoever wins, France's next president will herald a new era
after 12 years under Jacques Chirac, who is unlikely to run for a
third term. Many voters are hoping their next leader will find new
direction for a nation worried about its future in Europe and the
world and how to reach out to its unemployment-stricken blacks,
Arabs and Muslims.
Sunday's 3.5-million-euro (US$4.5 million) convention for the
conservative UMP party is aimed at giving Sarkozy momentum before
the two-round election.
Tens of thousands of people packed a conference center on the
southern edge of Paris for the party congress, many brought in from
His challenge will be to hold together conservatives, including
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and party founder Chirac, who
have not announced their backing for Sarkozy's candidacy.
"I'll need and France will need everybody here," Sarkozy told
cheering party members in brief early remarks.
Villepin, a Sarkozy rival who has refused to endorse a candidate
because Chirac has not announced his future plans, made a brief,
closely scripted appearance at the convention and shook Sarkozy's
Other potential challengers to Sarkozy's candidacy have been
tarnished by corruption scandals or government crises, or fell to
Sarkozy's steamroller-like takeover of the party.
Some 69 percent of UMP members, or a total of 233,779 people,
took part in the party vote, and 98 percent of them cast a ballot
for Sarkozy. The others left their ballot blank as a protest
Sarkozy has earned both kudos and vitriol for promising to cut
cherished workplace protections, championing tough police tactics
for tough housing projects and dispatching illegal immigrants back
to Africa and elsewhere.
(China Daily via agencies January 15, 2007)