Sarkozy must go Published: February 19 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 19 2007 02:00Nicolas Sarkozy has gripped France’s presidential election by the scruff of the neck. His rival Ségolène Royal has wobbled ineffectually, sometimes mouthing vacuities, sometimes dabbling in old school dirigisme. Mr Sarkozy has charted an altogether firmer course, building a respectable lead for himself ahead of the April poll.
What a pity, therefore, that the election is not fair – or, at least, not universally accepted as such.
Ms Royal’s Socialist cohorts complain that at the heart of the Sarkozy campaign lies a conflict of interests. Such arguments could be dismissed as the bleating of failing politicians, but they happen to be right. Mr Sarkozy’s dual role as interior minister and presidential contender is indefensible.
As a government minister, Mr Sarkozy is responsible for the intelligence services, overseeing the domestic media – and organising elections. But he is running in the same elections his ministry is organising, his fortunes are shaped by (generally very positive) media coverage and his name has been dragged into allegations of politically-driven spying on the Royal campaign. The impression of a many-sided conflict of interest is difficult to avoid.
Of course, a ministerial post is not always a political trump card. Five years ago, Lionel Jospin’s presidential campaign fell apart before the second round, even though he was prime minister at the time. In 1988, Jacques Chirac was comprehensively outmanoeuvred by François Mitterrand. In both instances, the presidency went to the man already in the Elysée.
But Mr Sarkozy’s current job as interior minister – not to mention his reputation as the most hyperactive occupant of the post in modern times – is much more intimately connected with the election itself. If only for appearances’ sake, he should consider his position. After all, he has already resigned from the government once, to become head of the ruling UMP.
Intellectual honesty also comes into play. A self-styled liberal in a traditionally statist nation, Mr Sarkozy has made « rupture » with the Chirac era his slogan. Yet he insists on remaining the second most senior minister of a discredited government. To campaign against an administration in which one serves is to teeter on the edge of absurdity.
While the election appears to be Mr Sarkozy’s to lose, it is not enough for him to focus on not blowing his big chance. Instead, he should seek to win with the maximum possible legitimacy. After the tragi-farce of the 2002 contest, in which Mr Chirac faced down the ageing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, France deserves a real race, honestly conducted and seen to be fair.
Mr Sarkozy should counter any suspicions of malpractice and set an example for his prospective presidency. For the good of his country, and of himself, he should concentrate on his candidacy and leave office straight away.