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Sarkozy under fire as France's Republicans change primary vote rules

Former French president and Republicans leader Nicolas Sarkozy
Former French president and Republicans leader Nicolas Sarkozy AFP

Rivals of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy were on the warpath this week after his Republicans party changed the way expatriates will vote in the primary to pick its presidential candidate. One warned of the danger of a new "internal war" and another accused Sarkozy of trying to "bury" the primary, while the body overseeing the vote opposed the decision.

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"There was a consensus for an internet vote abroad, that consensus has been broken by Nicolas Sarkozy and we're seeing an internal war emerge again," Hervé Mariton, who hopes to represent the mainstream right in the 2017 presidential poll, told France 2 television.

He warned of a repeat of the 2012 damaging battle between former prime minister François Fillon and former budget minister Jean-François Copé for the party's presidency, a post now held by Sarkozy.

"If Sarkozy today wants to bury the primary, he should come out and say it," was the reaction of another would-be candidate, Frédéric Lefebvre, who represents French citizens living in North America in the French parliament.

Lefebvre threatened to organise an electronic vote himself if the party leadership sticks to its guns.

There are 1.2 million French citizens living abroad.

Party leaders changes expatriates' vote rule

On Tuesday the ruling political bureau followed Sarkozy's recommendation and voted overwhelmingly to scrap plans for an internet vote on the grounds that all voters in the primary should vote at polling stations.

That enraged three candidates, who are bureau members but were not present - Fillon Bordeaux mayor and former prime minister Alain Juppé and former agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire - and they appealed to the independent committee organising the vote against it.

The committee agreed with them, pointing out that it had been working on the assumption that there would be an electronic vote abroad for five months and that it might prove impossible to arrange polling stations, especially in countries that only allow votes for foreigners in embassies or consulates.

French right's first primary

Although most decisions on running the vote have been agreed by consensus, Sarkozy's supporters hit back with claims that the committee had rammed through its preferred method of organisation by publishing it in April without the endorsement of the political bureau.

The committee's president, Thierry Solère, tried to play down the differences on Thursday, pointing out that Sarkozy has asked him to explain the procedures for the primary again to the next political bureau meeting.

The vote, to be held in November, will be the French mainstream right's first primary, although the Socialists chose their presidential candidate by primary in 2012, with all votes cast in ballot boxes.

Expatriates do now vote electronically in national elections, thanks to a decision taken in 2012, while Sarkozy was still French president.

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