Francois Hollande was swept into the French presidency this summer on a wave of promises — tax hikes, the end of France's divided society, and a president who was "Mr. Normal" rather than the bling bling style of Nicolas Sarkozy.
For many, however, there's been disappointment. Proposed tax reforms have met with protests and anger, the French Muslim population remains as segregated as ever, and the market isn't buying the economic reforms.
There's another problem. "Mr Normal" is boring. The French press, used to the glory days of Sarkozy, are disappointed by the lack of scandal coming from the Hollande household. Even attempts to turn his relationship with a journalist into a scandal have largely failed to catch on.
The result, according to Angela Diffley at RFI, is that many are pining for Sarkozy — and they're watching his facial hair to gauge the chances of a return.
The funniest comment came this week from one of his former ministers, Roselyne Bachelot. "The political pundits have missed the most obvious clue", she said, referring to all the recent pictures of Sarkozy sporting very deliberate designer stubble: “He’s got a beard, a gay bad-boy style beard.” “That sort of image is hardly going to win over an electorate [UMP voters] which so prizes respectability”.
For Sarkozy-watchers the beard is especially symbolic: Before declaring his candidacy in the 2007 presidential elections, he was asked if he sometimes thought about being president while shaving. "Not just when I'm shaving," he shot back.
Will the stubble still be there for the next French election in 2017? Sarkozy is in New York today to make a speech at a banking conference, suggesting he may be planning on following Tony Blair and Bill Clinton onto the lucrative lecture circuit rather than returning to politics.
However, there have been other hints. Last week it was reported that Sarkozy had recently said to a close friend, "Given the disastrous condition France is likely to be in five years from now, I will have no choice in 2017."
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