Why Nicolas Sarkozy was sent packing by the Right's voters


It is both a defeat and a humiliation. Having finished third in the Right's primary election on Sunday to choose a presidential candidate for 2017 and thus eliminated from the race, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has seen his political strategy torn to pieces. He has, in effect, been sacked by his own electorate. The unprecedented democratic election on the Right has instead witnessed the victory of hardline conservative and former prime minister François Fillon. Mediapart's editor François Bonnet analyses what led to a tumultuous night in French politics that now seems certain to mark the end of Sarkozy's political career.

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It was a very public execution. The elimination of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the primary election to choose the 2017 presidential candidate for the Right and centre (see Mediapart's coverage here) is far more than simply an electoral defeat. Here was the ex-head of state brutally sacked not in the context of a traditional clash between Left and Right, but by his own side, by an electorate of the Right that for the last 15 years had always chosen him as their leader. It is thus a letter of dismissal – perhaps even a letter of proclamation – that the Right has sent to the man who had set his sights on retrieving, with impunity, the presidency he had lost to François Hollande in 2012.

While the old adage is that you are never dead in politics, the humiliating blow that has been inflicted is so great that it is hard to imagine how Nicolas Sarkozy can ever again put together a winning political formula. The defeat is made even more notable and cruel - for Sarkozy – because it came from a large-scale democratic experiment carried out by the Right for the first time; a primary election to choose its presidential candidate. It has been an indisputable success, with around 4 million voters taking part in the first round on Sunday – which contrasts with the 2.7 million who participated in in the Left's first primary in 2011 – in an election that cannot be contested, save for a few administrative snags.We knew that Nicolas Sarkozy had very strong misgivings about a primary whose potentially fatal risks he himself foresaw, before being forced to accept it. For since his defeat in 2012 the former head of state has been constructing a political Potemkin village, accompanied by the unquestioning conformism of a media and opinion poll bubble. First of all there was the myth that Sarkozy was not 'really' beaten in 2012 and that given another two weeks of campaign he would have defeated Hollande in that election. Then his political comeback in the summer of 2014 was staged as if he were some kind of Marlon Brando/Don Corleone-style figure returning to calm down the tearaway kids and bring unity back to a political family that had been torn apart.

Unimaginative political commentators automatically set out a narrative that had been constructed by Sarkozy himself. But this time the story was an empty one simply because the man who had until 2012 endlessly brutalised his own side, entourage and allies, had been beaten – by François Hollande. After that nothing could ever be the same again as from then on his rivals on the Right were determined to rediscover their freedom, with former prime ministers François Fillon and Alain Juppé, the men who eliminated Sarkozy on Sunday, at the forefront.