Sarkozy to throw hat in election ring Wednesday

With only 10 weeks before the first round of presidential vote on April 22, right-wing Sarkozy is lagging in the polls.

Paris: French President Nicolas Sarkozy will announce his bid for re-election Wednesday, setting the stage for what he hopes will be a dramatic comeback against his poll-leading Socialist rival, a source in his office said.

With only 10 weeks before the first round of the presidential vote on April 22, right-wing Sarkozy is lagging in the polls, struggling with image problems and burdened with a moribund economy.

But his team is confident that once officially in the race Sarkozy, a seasoned and charismatic campaigner, will be able to quickly make up ground on Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande.

Elysee sources said he would officially confirm his candidacy on TF1 television in its news show on Wednesday and will announce that Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet
will be his campaign spokeswoman.

Henri Guaino, Sarkozy`s special advisor, will be the campaign`s speechwriter and Sarkozy was to hold his first major election rally Thursday in the Alpine town of Annecy.

Sarkozy has been laying the groundwork for his run in the last several weeks -- portraying himself as a defender of traditional values and a steady hand in dealing with the
European economic crisis.

In an interview with Le Figaro last week, he made clear he will be pushing a conservative social agenda, vowing to oppose gay marriage and euthanasia and to restrict immigration.

In recent weeks he has also moved to shore up his reformist economic credentials, increasing the sales tax to reduce payroll charges and introducing a 0.1 per cent tax on financial transactions.

But his efforts so far have not translated into a boost in opinion polls.

An IFOP survey published today found Hollande down by one percentage point but still well ahead with 30 per cent support and Sarkozy trailing with 25.5 per cent -- up 0.5 per cent --
in the first round.

Under this forecast, Hollande would be the clear winner in the second round with 57.5 per cent of the vote, against Sarkozy`s 42.5 per cent.

"The game is far from over. The polls, the comments, all this will be wiped away in the three weeks before the election," Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a long-time Sarkozy
ally, told Le Monde yesterday.

"He has maintained his close relationship with the French people. During the campaign he will find the words and ways to reach out to them."


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