PARIS, (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy will try to quell a political donations scandal today after losing a safe parliamentary seat in a sign of public anger over allegations of cash handouts to conservative politicians.
An official investigation cleared a key minister yesterday of abusing his position to shield France’s richest woman from a tax audit, but critics said the report did not erase suspicions of a conflict of interest.
Sarkozy will give a rare summer television interview a day before embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth presents to the cabinet a pension reform, which is unpopular with voters and unions.
The furore over alleged cash handouts by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, and her late husband, to conservative politicians has shaken the president and helped drive his approval rating to a record low.
The ruling UMP party lost a by-election on Sunday in what opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry called “a very clear snub to the president and the government, and a strong rejection of the climate created by these revelations and scandals”.
Green candidate Anny Poursinoff, backed by the Socialists, beat the UMP incumbent in the Rambouillet constituency southwest of Paris by 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent on a low 26.8 percent turnout. The conservatives retain a comfortable majority in the lower house of parliament.