Nicolas Sarkozy is the frontrunner as French conservatives choose their new leader over the next two days, a crucial step in his bid to win back the country's presidency.

France's main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader. The party has struggled with money problems and fierce internal rivalries since Sarkozy lost the presidency to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.

Sarkozy is widely expected to beat out challengers Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton in the leadership vote.

Sarkozy had a high profile abroad as president in 2007-2012, and drew extra attention for marrying former supermodel Carla Bruni while in office.

But he remains a divisive figure at home, facing legal troubles and tensions over the resurgent far right.