Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected head of the opposition UMP party – a victory that is expected to bolster his hopes for running for president again.

The election of Sarkozy at the top position of the conservative UMP is positioning him as front-runner for the nomination of the party for the presidential elections in 2017.

Sarkozy obtained 64.5% support from party members in a vote late on Saturday, defeating former ministers Bruno Le Maire and Herve Mariton.

The result, however, is lower than the 85% of the vote when Sarkozy was first elected party leader in 2004, indicating he will have to try hard to outrun potential rivals within UMP.

Sarkozy’s victory iseen by many as the first step on his road to political comeback aimed at winning back the presidency in 2017.

The UMP will hold primary elections in 2016 to nominate its candidate for the presidential elections.

In those primaries Sarkozy’s rivals are expected to include Fran?ois Fillon, his former prime minister, and former prime minister Alain Juppe, who was also defence and foreign minister for Sarkozy.

In 2004, Sarkozy was elected the UMP’s leader and went on to become French President from 2007 until his defeat in 2012. He failed to win re-election in 2012, losing to the current Socialist President Francois Hollande.