PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat on Sunday marked the end of a five-year presidency during which he divided a France that had put its hopes in him to break with a history of timid government complacency.
Never has a French president been so disliked, as much for his personal style as for his austere deficit-busting policies, and the right-wing leader vowed months ago to quit politics if defeated.
“You’ll see a big surprise,” an optimistic Sarkozy declared on Friday at the end of a ferocious campaign that saw him repeatedly apologise for his perceived flashy presidential style.
A one-on-one televised debate on Wednesday was seen by many as his last chance to catch up with Hollande, when the Socialist impressed by remaining calm while Sarkozy surprised no one by lashing out at his rival as a “liar”.
When he was first elected in 2007, after 12 years of president Jacques Chirac’s dithering, many were ready to forgive Sarkozy’s brutal side, in the hope his relentless energy would serve France well in an age of globalisation.
Five years later, after promises of wealth and job creation proved a mirage, Sarkozy’s aggression grated too much and his relationship with the electorate irreparably broke down.
At 57, Nicolas Sarkozy de Nagy-Bosca retained the boundless ambition that drove the son of a Hungarian immigrant, with no ties to the Paris elite or the provincial bourgeoisie that dominate politics, to the presidency.
An activist at 19, a town mayor at 28, lawmaker at 34 and minister at 38, Sarkozy won the presidency at 52, and his time in office remained as busy in his personal life as it was in politics.