PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy indicated on Sunday he would step down from political leadership after accepting responsibility for his defeat by Socialist Francois Hollande.
During his campaign, he had promised to quit politics if he became only the second French president to lose a bid for re-election. Conceding defeat on Sunday, he said: “I am not a man to shirk responsibilities. When there is a defeat, it is the Number 1 who accepts the consequences.
“I accept all the responsibility for this defeat,” he added.
“My role cannot be the same again. My engagement in the public life of my country will be different from now on. I am preparing to become just one French citizen amongst many.”
Sarkozy said “another era” was beginning but that he would continue to share the ideals of his conservative UMP party: “You can count on me to defend these ideas and convictions. But my role can no longer be the same after 35 years of political service and 10 years in which I have lived every second for the responsibilities of the highest political office.”
On Friday, a close ally said Sarkozy might leave a door open to rekindle his career: “If he is defeated but scores as much as 48 to 48.5 percent, with governments everywhere being thrown out by the economic crisis, that would be no disgrace,” Alain Minc said. “We’ll see what he decides to do.”
Sarkozy scored 48.4 percent, according to official data with most of the votes counted.
Parliamentary elections in June could give Sarkozy a platform as the conservatives weigh how to deal with the far-right National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen finished a strong third in the first round of the presidential vote.
Many analysts believe the UMP could split as factions feud over whether to shun or embrace National Front supporters.
One political leader who made clear he did not see a new role for Sarkozy was Turkey’s prime minister, who fell out with the outgoing president over his government’s support of a law declaring Turks guilty of a genocide of Armenians in 1915.
Speaking of his hopes for a “very different” relationship with a France led by Hollande, Tayyip Erdogan said pointedly: “After the pledge by Mr. Sarkozy to leave politics, there’s not much else for him to do but take a holiday.”
Editing by Geert De Clercq and Alastair Macdonald