Sarkozy crushed as French conservatives back Fillon
Nicolas Sarkozy crashed out of the race to elect a right-wing nominee for next year's presidential election in France last night, after François Fillon came a spectacular first ahead of Alain Juppé.
It was a crushing blow for the 61-year-old former president who had hoped to reclaim the keys to the Élysée Palace after his defeat to Socialist François Hollande in 2012.
But Mr Sarkozy took his defeat gracefully, bowing out of front-line French politics, perhaps this time for good.
Addressing his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and his four children, he said: "It's not easy to live with a man who sparks so much passion. It's time for me to live a life with more private passion and less public passion. Good luck France."
Mr Sarkozy then threw his weight behind Mr Fillon (62), his former prime minister and an admirer of Margaret Thatcher. The favourite Alain Juppé came a surprise second.
The news was a shock for Mr Sarkozy and a huge blow for pollsters who were stunned by the result.
The ballot was open to anyone willing to pay €2 and professing agreement with Les Republicains party's conservative values - leaving a loophole open to tactical intruders, who appear to have voted in vast numbers against Mr Sarkozy.
The race to pick a nominee had sparked huge interest as the winner is likely to meet - and beat - Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-EU, anti-immigrant Front National, in the presidential run-off next May.
This prompted many left-wingers to cast votes against Mr Sarkozy, who has maintained a tough stance on national identity, Islam and immigration.
Left-winger Aurelie Blanz, a Franco-German illustrator from Paris, said: "I felt a bit weird voting for a right-winger, but I wasn't the only one. For me, it's anyone but Sarkozy, and Juppé can't be worse.
"There's nobody on the left for now, and if the presidential run-off ends up between a right-winger and Le Pen, it would be appalling to have to vote for Sarkozy."
Lionel Pailles, a writer from an eastern Paris suburb, and a long-time "left-wing sympathiser" said: "My aim was to eliminate Sarkozy, who has hurt France, and help Juppé win the primary."
The turnout topped 2.5 million by 5pm, based on figures from 70pc of 10,228 polling stations across the country.
The Ifop polling institute predicted that around 12pc of the overall primary vote would come from Left-wingers. (© Daily Telegraph London)