France's Sarkozy renames UMP party 'The Republicans'

The President of the French right-wing UMP party, Nicolas Sarkozy, leaves after voting at the party's headquarters in Paris on May 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/Stephane de Sakutin)

Paris (AFP) - Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday announced that the opposition UMP will from now on be known as "The Republicans", as his scandal-tainted party seeks to improve its image ahead of the 2017 presidential race.

Members of the right-wing party voted 83 percent in favour of the name change, according to results released by the leadership.

"'Republicans' is not just a new name for a party. It's a rallying call to all who are distressed to see the Republic decline day after day and who want to stop this decline," Sarkozy said in a message on the party's new website republicains.fr.

Sarkozy returned to frontline politics last year and is expected to make another run for the presidency in 2017.

The 59-year-old -- deeply unpopular at the time of his election defeat to Francois Hollande in 2012 -- is working hard to improve the party's image after bitter leadership tussles and financial scandals.

While his much-heralded comeback has been dogged by legal woes including a corruption probe, his party gave the ruling Socialists a drubbing in local elections last month.

Sarkozy was charged in July with corruption, influence peddling and violation of legal secrecy over the case -- and became the first former head of state to be taken into custody for questioning.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Just 46 percent of UMP members -- or 97,440 people -- took part in the online vote to rename the party, results showed.

A party congress will take place in Paris on Saturday, with Sarkozy set to give the closing speech.