World

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, eyeing new bid, chosen to lead conservative party

  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy votes at a UMP party permanence for the leadership of France’s main opposition party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

    Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy votes at a UMP party permanence for the leadership of France’s main opposition party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Paris Saint Germain's President Nasser al-Khelaifi attend the League One soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Nice, at Parc des Princes stadium, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

    Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Paris Saint Germain's President Nasser al-Khelaifi attend the League One soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Nice, at Parc des Princes stadium, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)  (The Associated Press)

  • French former President Nicolas Sarkozy votes at a UMP party permanence for the leadership of France’s main opposition party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, pool)

    French former President Nicolas Sarkozy votes at a UMP party permanence for the leadership of France’s main opposition party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. France’s main opposition party, the UMP, is holding elections Friday and Saturday for a new leader between France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, pool)  (The Associated Press)

Returning from the political wilderness, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a big step toward a possible re-election bid by winning the leadership of the conservative party.

Sarkozy had been widely expected to win the Union for a Popular Movement leadership in Saturday's vote by party members. The victory advances his hopes of running in the 2017 presidential race.

The 59-year-old Gaullist collected 64.5 percent of the vote to defeat former government ministers Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton.

Sarkozy has re-emerged on the political scene in recent months after all but disappearing following his loss to Socialist Francois Hollande in the 2012 election.

The party, known as the UMP, will choose its presidential nominee in 2016.