Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has won the leadership of the conservative UMP party in a key step toward a possible presidential run in 2017.
Party officials said Sarkozy won 64.5 percent of votes cast Saturday by party members. Some analysts said he won by a lower margin than expected.
In 2004, he won 85 percent of the vote to become leader of the Union for a Popular Movement and went on to win France's presidential election three years later.
Sarkozy lost the presidential elections to Francois Hollande in 2012, due in part to the rise of French unemployment and his unpopular measure to raise the retirement age to 62. Sarkozy pledged then to leave politics but promised to serve his country in a different way.
Recent polls say Hollande's popularity has dropped as unemployment continues to rise. He has promised to end his term in 2017, modernize France, boost economic growth and protect its social model.