France’s right-wing opposition party undecided over candidate

Image copyright EPA Image caption Dominique Anselin, R.P.S., is hoping to gain credibility for the Union for a Popular Movement

Sunday’s deadline for France’s right-wing opposition party to pick a candidate has been passed with no candidate coming forward.

The timing of the party’s choice allows the presidential contender to play to a broad populist constituency, which can then form support outside mainstream politics.

Ruling party members will hold a rival convention in early October.

The choice of a leader will only be made by the opposition National Rally (formerly known as the UMP) party membership, who have until Monday to register a candidacy.

Leading right-wing figures like former Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy and ex-minister Alain Juppe have been keen to stake their claim on the party’s candidacy.

But with few announcements, many worry that party leadership will become a proxy for a prime ministerial candidacy.

Party leaders also fear a divided party could hamper the party’s battle for the 2019 legislative elections.

Political support

Many in the party have been looking for an ambitious figure to unify French nationalists and allies.

As more and more Europeans distrust politicians, Mr Sarkozy, who is famous for his over-the-top rhetoric, is seen as the candidate best able to win back the support of many disillusioned right-wingers.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Nicholas Sarkozy has enjoyed support among conservative voters

Supporters of former finance minister Francois Bayrou, who quit the government in 2011, have voiced their concerns that a candidate such as Mr Sarkozy would have little chance of securing the same support the conservative candidate won four years ago, under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Union for a Popular Movement hopes to overcome its acrimonious history – many of its former members have been expelled for siding with Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party rather than the UMP led by former president, Francois Hollande, during the 2015 presidential election.

Many right-wing voters have believed that Mr Sarkozy has experienced a change of fortune since he lost the race four years ago.

But while he enjoyed strong popularity ratings after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, the support has since been slowly eroded by the more moderate Mr Juppe and current leader, Alain Juppe.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Many right-wing party members feel Nicolas Sarkozy is the only leader who can unite a divided conservative movement

Polls suggest Mr Sarkozy could gather support from between 20 and 25% of voters in an internal party poll, according to French newspaper Le Figaro .

But Mr Sarkozy would likely struggle to pick up sufficient support outside the UMP, much less in a runoff against the socialist candidate in the election.

If neither Mr Sarkozy nor Mr Juppe is able to secure enough support from a united UMP, the centre-right vote will likely split in half, splitting support from the far-right National Front party.

Would it even matter?

Some right-wingers have stated that an outsider candidate could be an asset in general elections, where personalities stand out among a field of familiar political faces.

But with more than one year to go until the first round of the presidential elections, Sunday’s deadline should not be seen as a deadline to pick a presidential candidate, according to Nicolas Muller, professor of politics at Paris’s Sciences Po institute.

Although the UMP could choose to compromise and elect a moderate candidate who could win votes from moderate UMP members, “it would be a mistake to insist on a charismatic figure”, he told the Associated Press.

“The party doesn’t have that candidate; that is not in their DNA,” he said.

Many French politicians have openly acknowledged that the UMP’s time is up.

Dr Marin Petit, a fellow at the University of Paris 2 who runs a sociology and political science blog, said: “They have been talking about not being a party but a movement for a long time.”

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