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France's Sarkozy sees ratings slump, woes mount

Source: Reuters - Wed 4th Nov 2009

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's approval ratings have fallen sharply following an uproar over plans to install his son as head of the agency in charge of the Paris business district La Defence, a poll Tuesday showed.

Sarkozy's personal approval rating dropped six points to 39 percent, its lowest level, in the latest edition of a regular poll by the Ifop institute to be published in Thursday's edition of the weekly Paris Match.

The fall was particularly marked among voters from Sarkozy's own centre-right UMP party (down 9 points) and the far right National Front (down 10 points) as well as among voters under 35 years (down 9 points).

"This constitutes a clear sign of the twin dimension of the crisis last month: a crisis of governance and a crisis over the gap between the government's actions and the worries of citizens" Ifop said in a note on the survey.

Over recent weeks, a series of incidents have damaged Sarkozy's image as a tough and plain-speaking leader committed to reforming France and breaking with the failed policies of past governments.

A plan to put his 23-year-old son Jean in charge of La Defence, a zone of skyscrapers, banks and corporate headquarters that accounts for 10 percent of French economic output, sparked one of the biggest outcries since Sarkozy came to power in 2007.

The scale of the uproar forced Jean Sarkozy, a local councillor and undergraduate student still in the second year of his law degree, to renounce his ambitions to lead the agency, despite vigorous denials of nepotism.

But the scandal has been especially damaging because it was the culmination of several other incidents that hurt the standing of Sarkozy and the government. 

These ranged from sex tourism revelations about Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand to accusations of racism levelled at Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and a bitter court battle against former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

At the same time, Sarkozy has had to tackle growing discontent among UMP lawmakers over subjects ranging from local taxation to regional government reform and a planned carbon tax that will raise petrol prices.

The turbulence has given renewed hope to the battered opposition Socialists, whose own internal squabbling appeared to have left them with little chance of mounting an effective challenge in the 2012 presidential election.

"Something has changed in the country" Jean-Marc Ayrault, a senior Socialist deputy said. "The air has changed. The thread between this president and the French people has broken."

"The myth of an invincible Sarkozy in 2012 has fallen. He has become beatable" he said.

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