French President Jacques Chirac endorsed fellow conservative
Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential bid Wednesday despite a long-held
rivalry, giving a boost to the candidate in a close and volatile
Chirac, in a terse televised speech, said it was "natural" that
he would offer Sarkozy his vote and his backing. The president also
announced that Sarkozy would quit as interior minister on
Sarkozy said he was "very touched" by Chirac's support. "It is
important for me politically and also personally," the candidate
said in a statement.
Sarkozy, who has held a narrow lead in the polls for months, has
made breaking with the past and reform of the French economy that
stagnated under Chirac main themes of his presidential
Chirac's backing, and the long-anticipated decision to quit the
government, carried both benefits and risks for Sarkozy.
Leaving the Interior Ministry promises to deflate vociferous
criticism from Sarkozy's presidential competitors that he was
unfairly using his powerful and high-profile government post as
pulpit from which to campaign.
Because the ministry organizes French elections, critics also
claimed a conflict of interest in Sarkozy's case and argued that he
blurred the lines between his candidacy and his ministerial
But the ministry, which oversees the police and domestic
intelligence agencies, also provided Sarkozy with an enviable
platform to prove his effectiveness on issues central to his
campaign, particularly immigration and security.
His tough stance on those questions drew much criticism during
his tenure, but boosted his support on the right.
In declaring his support, Chirac hailed Sarkozy's "work, his
commitment and his results" at the Interior Ministry.
Sarkozy has sought not to come across as the president's
anointed successor, to avoid being associated with Chirac's policy
failures and often dismal approval ratings in his 12 years at the
presidential Elysee Palace.
But Chirac still carries weight as outgoing head of state and a
refusal by him to endorse Sarkozy would have been a blow for his
candidacy, handing ammunition to his rivals.
Sarkozy said Chirac's support was of "primary political
significance" because he "knows better than anybody the demands of
the job" as president.
France votes on April 22, with a run-off on May 6 between the
top two vote-getters. Chirac, 74, only announced this month that he
would not seek re-election.
(China Daily via agencies, March 22, 2007)