Nicolas Sarkozy’s chances of winning the presidential vote have been considerably improved by the fact that in recent days a number of potential rivals have rallied to his camp.
France’s defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie won sustained applause from the audience of some 70,000 when she confirmed her decision to support him.
Sarkozy’s place at the top of the opinion polls made him virtually unchallengeable from within his own camp.
“I think he’s the only one who can unite the right and does what he says,” said one activist.
Of those loyal to Jacques Chirac, only National Assembly leader Jean Louis Debré turned up. I’m here to pay hommage to Chirac, the father of the family, he said. But support for the idea of Chirac standing again looks to be waning fast.
As for Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, he made a brief and somewhat unglamourous appearance on the fringes of the meeting – Sarkozy was there to meet him, but his face wasn’t flashed up on the giant video screens for fear he might be booed and he didn’t stay to hear Sarkozy’s speech.
De Villepin could still stand as independent, but even if he did his voice risks being drowned out by the clamour from his rival’s clan.