France's former president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his return to politics, declaring he would seek the leadership of the opposition UMP party in a move that would position him for a 2017 presidential bid.
The Friday announcement puts an end to months of local media speculation that the 59-year-old conservative would return to the fray after his defeat by Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.
"I am a candidate for the presidency of my political family," he said on his Facebook account on Friday."After a lengthy period of reflexion, I have decided to offer the French people a new political choice," he said.
I have seen the rise, like an unstoppable tide, of disarray, rejection and anger ... Among many French people, I saw the temptation to no longer believe in anyone or anything
A divisive figure loathed by many left-wing voters, Sarkozy is seen by his supporters as the only politician capable of uniting the fragmented centre-right UMP party to a victory in 2017. But any political return could be hindered by a series of legal troubles hanging over his head.
Sarkozy,husband of model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, is facing legal problems linked to corruption accusations.
But his successor, Hollande, has become the most unpopular French leader of modern times over his handling of the dragging economy, and has thus boosted Sarkozy's chances in victory.
Sarkozy said he could not "remain a spectator given the situation in which France finds itself, given the destruction of political debate and the persistence of the derisory splits within the opposition."
"I love France too much: I am too impassioned by public debate and the future of my countrymen to see them forced to choose between the desperate situation of today and the prospect of isolation without a way out," he added.
Sarkozy, who credits himself with having helped steer Europe through its worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression before being voted out, said he used his temporary withdrawal from politics to reflect and talk to ordinary French people.
On how he plans on changing the party, Sarkozy said he "will propose reforming it from top to bottom so as to create, within three months, the basis of a new and broad movement that can speak to the French as a whole. This broad movement will adopt a new project," he added.
Gradually emerging as the leader of the French right in the mid-2000s, Sarkozy cast himself as a reformer with bold ideas who would break with France's past.
His aggressive, American-style manner both attracted and repelled voters as he pledged to reform the country's labour markets and tax system to bolster industry and job creation. He stood down hundreds of thousands of strikers to raise France's retirement age to 62 from 60.
"I have seen the rise, like an unstoppable tide, of disarray, rejection and anger ... Among many French people, I saw the temptation to no longer believe in anyone or anything," he said.
"This absence of all hope, so peculiar to France, now forces us to completely reinvent ourselves."
In foreign policy, he brokered a ceasefire to end a short-lived war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and championed an international military intervention in Libya three years later.
However, a widespread public perception that he was on the side of the rich earned him the tag of "President Bling Bling" and little sympathy with voters feeling economic hardship.