French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce his bid for re-election this week
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce his bid for re-election this week, setting the stage for what he hopes will be a dramatic comeback against his poll-leading Socialist rival.
With only 10 weeks before the first round of France's presidential vote on April 22, right-wing Sarkozy is lagging in the polls, struggling with image problems and burdened with a moribund economy, reports AFP.
But his team is confident that once officially in the race Sarkozy, a seasoned and charismatic campaigner, will be able to quickly make up ground on frontrunner, Francois Hollande.
"The game is far from over. The polls, the comments, all this will be wiped away in the three weeks before the election," Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a long-time Sarkozy ally, told Le Monde on Monday.
"He has maintained his close relationship with the French people. During the campaign he will find the words and ways to reach out to them."
Right-wing newspaper, Le Figaro, often used for semi-official statements from the president's camp, wrote on Monday that Sarkozy will officially announce his candidacy by Thursday.
Quoting anonymous members of his campaign team, it said Sarkozy will hold his first campaign rally on Sunday in the southern port city of Marseille.
Sarkozy has been laying the groundwork for his run in the last several weeks -- portraying himself as a defender of traditional values and a steady hand in dealing with the European economic crisis.
In an interview with Le Figaro last week, he made clear he will be pushing a conservative social agenda, vowing to oppose gay marriage and euthanasia and to restrict immigration.
In recent weeks he has also moved to shore up his reformist economic credentials, increasing the sales tax to reduce payroll charges and introducing a 0.1 percent tax on financial transactions.
But his efforts so far have not translated into a boost in opinion polls.
The most recent poll by firm OpinionWay found Hollande leading with 29.5 percent support and Sarkozy trailing with 25.5 percent in the first round.
Under this forecast, Hollande would also extend his lead in the May 6 second round run-off, beating Sarkozy by a score of 56 to 44 percent.
Hollande's spokesman, Benoit Hamon, said Monday the Socialist campaign was feeling "calm" ahead of the expected announcement and denounced Sarkozy as having a "narrow and stunted vision" of France's future.
Others in the campaign, however, were warning of a tough battle.
"It will be violent, it will be brutal," Hollande's campaign director, Pierre Moscovici, said on Sunday, warning that Sarkozy "feels like he has his back to the wall and he will not back away from anything."
As well as from the left, Sarkozy is facing a challenge from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who is polling between 16 and 20 percent and hopes to knock him out in the first round.