In his final campaign appearance, riding a horse through a bull farm, Nicolas Sarkozy said he had fought the election with intensity. And he may yet reap the rewards. Ahead after the first round, he is one step closer to becoming France’s first President of immigrant origin.
He survived a public split with his wife Cecilia, his closest adviser. She returned and was by his side when he voted. But Sarkozy may not survive concerns about his programme and personality. His efforts to seem tough on law and order have provoked controversy. His description of violent elements in poor neighbourhoods as “scum” two years ago prompted a storm of protest.
But aides say he has come under attack because he wants to bring about change. He supports painful economic reforms, such as a longer working week and cutting government employees.
Since he dreamt of becoming President as a child, Sarkozy- the son of a Hungarian nobleman- has survived many career set-backs. Twelve years ago he supported the wrong candidate in the presidential election won by Jacques Chirac. But still he rose to serve as Interior Minister and briefly as Finance Minister. Only time will tell whether he will surmount the final challenge, the run-off in May.