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30 Nov, 2014 01:33

Nicolas Sarkozy is back as leader of France’s main opposition party

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected leader of the oppositional right-wing party UMP (Union for Popular Movement), marking his return to politics and beginning his bid for French presidency in 2017.

READ MORE: Sarkozy announces return to French political sphere“I would like to thank all the UMP members who did me the honor of electing me leader of our political family,” Sarkozy said on his Facebook page. “Their mobilization, at a level unequalled in the history of our movement, is the best response to two years of internal quarrels and divisions.”

Sarkozy won with 64.5 percent of the votes, beating his nearest rival Bruno le Marie, with 155,000 members of UMP taking part in the election.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (L) is greeted by well-wishers as he leaves his campaign headquarters after he won his UMP (Union for a Movement Popular) politial party member's online vote for its new leader in Paris November 29, 2014. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The win makes Sarkozy eligible for the 2017 presidential election.

“The time for action has come...this vote marks a new beginning for our political family...we must be united and dedicate ourselves to find new solutions for France,” Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy was first elected party leader back in 2004, with 85 percent of the votes. He then served as president from 2007 to 2012, when he was defeated by Francois Hollande.

However, September polls showed Sarkozy’s growing popularity, while Hollande has been seeing the lowest popularity ratings in France’s history.

READ MORE: New unpopularity record: 86 percent of French reject Hollande

The ratings of Hollande fell to a record low in September, with only 13 percent of French people saying they were satisfied with his performance as president and 86 percent stating that they no longer supported Hollande, according to an IFOP (French Institute of Public Opinion) poll.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, elected at the helm of the French right-wing main opposition party UMP, cheers his fans as he leaves on November 29, 2014 the UMP's headquarters in Paris. (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina)

However, Sarkozy is entering the post with a political past that still haunts him. The former president has been heavily criticized for education reforms that triggered massive protests, as well as raising the retirement age, deporting Roma people, and dragging France into the Libyan conflict.

Apart from that, Sarkozy’s career has also been gripped by financial scandals. Six months after becoming president, he raised his salary by 140 percent. Both his 2007 and 2012 election campaigns are under investigation at the moment for being allegedly financed through fraud.

However, these scandals are unlikely to hurt Sarkozy’s future presidential campaign, international political professor Hall Gardner told RT.

“All of the accusations seem to bounce off of him…Sarkozy is appealing more and more to the right. He is doing this by immigration – he wants to make Schengen 2 – to try to make tougher immigration laws. He is looking towards tighter laws to keep prisoners locked in jail, and he is strongly against gay marriage,” he said, adding that, at the same time, “the majority of French do not want Hollande to run for president again.”

Sarkozy’s biggest opponent in 2017 is likely to be Marine Le Pen, who is due to be reconfirmed as party leader of National Front during a meeting in Lyon on Sunday.

The most recent polls have predicted Le Pen winning the next presidential election with 30 percent.