Sarkozy at record low in polls after first year

Beleaguered French President Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to use a prime-time TV appearance this week to claw back public support after polls showed a majority of French people think his first year in office has been a failure.

The anniversary has been marred by government infighting, policy U-turns and record low opinion polls, with the public confused over what Sarkozy’s critics call jumbled and piecemeal reforms.

A survey published on Monday by the daily Libération found that 59% of people saw Sarkozy’s first year as a failure. This followed a poll for the Journal du Dimanche that broke 50-year records with the lowest approval ratings registered by a modern president after a year in office.

In a bruising verdict on the man who styled himself as the only person brave enough to reform France radically and restore its greatness, 79% felt he had done nothing to ”improve the situation of France and the French”.

Even some in his own ruling centre-right UMP party are rebelling. The president read the riot act to his squabbling Cabinet last week, threatening to sack any minister who did not stick to an agreed line. This followed public slanging matches and U-turns, with the government forced to backtrack on unpopular measures such as scrapping subsidised rail cards for large families.

”This is a government that’s all over the place,” said Hervé de Charette, a UMP MP and former foreign minister.

Over the past 11 months, Sarkozy has fought battles on all fronts at once, opening up reform on pensions, the legal system, education, health, unemployment benefits and the public sector. His critics say this has caused confusion. ”There is a permanent muddle — backtracking and denials following on from spectacular announcements,” said Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris.

Some MPs in Sarkozy’s party fear that the public has not understood the reforms or seen personal improvements, particularly on many people’s main concern — their feeble spending power and inability to pay basic bills such as food and rent. Recent figures showed consumer morale at its lowest in 20 years, with prices rising at their fastest since the 1990s.

Sarkozy’s party spokesperson and adviser Dominique Paillé said the president will use Thursday’s 90-minute TV interview to explain his reforms. Most of the hardest reforms, such as general pensions and healthcare, remain to be made and the economic downturn leaves little room for manoeuvre.

Paillé said: ”The French like reform as long as it doesn’t touch them personally.” The left-leaning Libération said people are not averse to reform, but need a ”road map”.

The polls did, however, show approval for Sarkozy’s loosening of the 35-hour week and repairing France’s relationship with the United States. — Â

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