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Sarkozy wins over leftist backing

Bid for president gains as Socialist's standing drops

Nicolas Sarkozy is leading recent polls in France. Nicolas Sarkozy is leading recent polls in France. (JACQUES BRINON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

PARIS -- A number of prominent leftist intellectuals have thrown their support behind Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading center-right candidate for the French presidency, buoying his campaign and dealing a new blow to the Socialist Party candidate, Ségolène Royal.

One of the strongest statements came from the philosopher André Glucksmann, who declared in a commentary in Le Monde this week that the French left had been "stewing in narcissism" rather than taking stands on important moral issues and that the battle of ideas was in fact being conducted on the right. He complained that the left had failed to learn anything from its debacle in the 2002 election, when the Socialist Party's candidate was eliminated in the first round by Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front.

Glucksmann praised Sarkozy for taking account of France's changed demographics by advocating affirmative action and state aid for the construction of mosques. He called Sarkozy "the only candidate today" to have committed himself to humanitarian positions, notably by denouncing the war in Chechnya, in contrast to President Jacques Chirac, who in September awarded a medal to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Glucksmann, who has supported leftist causes for much of his life but broke ranks with the French intelligentsia by backing the invasion of Iraq, acknowledged that he would lose friends by supporting Sarkozy. He declined to criticize Royal, saying that the emptiness on the left was bigger than she was.

Other intellectuals, however, have taken aim at Royal, whose standing in opinion polls has been declining. The writer Pascal Bruckner told the newspaper Libération that he had originally liked her but had been taken aback when François Hollande, Royal's partner and the Socialist Party leader, declared that he did not like rich people.

Bruckner said that Sarkozy, who is still in his post as interior minister, had been holding lunch and breakfast meetings with intellectuals in an attempt to soften his image. "He is very courteous, very brilliant," Bruckner said, adding that France needed a candidate brave enough to take risks.

Others to back Sarkozy include Marc Weitzmann, former literary critic of the hip weekly Les Inrockuptibles, and Max Gallo, a former Socialist Party member who served as a junior Cabinet minister in the 1980s under President François Mitterrand.

The publicity surrounding Sarkozy has not helped Royal, who is facing unhappiness within her own party as her popularity continues to slip in advance of the spring election.

In an Ipsos poll of 959 people conducted late last week and released yesterday, respondents favored Sarkozy over Royal by 54 percent to 46 percent. A week earlier, a similar poll gave Sarkozy 51 percent and Royal 49 percent.

Royal has been hurt by a number of incidents involving foreign policy, most recently expressing support for "sovereignty and liberty" for Quebec. She was so unprepared at an interview with the French weekly Télérama that it had to be called off and rescheduled, Le Monde reported yesterday.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, is reaching out internationally, visiting London on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and giving a rare foreign media interview to The Charlie Rose Show for broadcast in the United States on PBS television yesterday.

In the interview, taped Tuesday, Sarkozy touched on the main themes of his campaign, beginning with the need for the French to work more, and said he hoped to be endorsed by Chirac, who is not expected to seek a third term but has been coy about his intentions.

On international affairs, Sarkozy, who was recently denounced in a Socialist Party statement as a "clone" of President Bush, said he was a friend of the United States but would speak his mind if he disagreed with American policy.

He chided Washington for being a "counterexample" by refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change.