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Analysis: French parliamentary election 2012

Knives are out in Sarkozy party after presidential election defeat

Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
Text by: Tony Cross
4 min

The war of Sarkozy’s succession has opened in France’s right-wing UMP party, following its defeat in presidential polls at the hands of Socialist François Hollande. As the party tries to fight a parliamentary election campaign, former prime minister François Fillon has declared that it needs a new leader and UMP big names are eyeing the presidential candidacy in 2017.

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Fillon has been accused of disloyalty and ingratitude after telling the right-wing Le Figaro magazine, that “there is no longer a natural leader for the UMP” since Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat in last month’s election and apparent retirement from active politics.

That was a slap in the face for current party general-secretary Jean-François Copé, who heads a triumvirate that runs the party. Copé enthusiastically fought for Sarkozy’s reelection and was vigorously espoused the bid for far-right votes that became increasingly intense in the last few weeks of the campaign.

Fillon’s remarks were “very unpleasant and very disloyal to Jean-François Copé”, declared former justice minister Rachid Dati, adding that they were also “very badly brought-up” and “ungrateful” to Sarkozy, “who made him what he is today”.

Dati is not exactly a dispassionate observer, having been squeezed out of her Paris parliamentary seat to make way for Fillon in a row that led to her at one point threatening to stand against him.

Alain Juppé, the former prime minister who was foreign minister under Sarkozy, on Friday called for unity in Le Figaro, saying that he did not want to “add my own little music to the current cacophany” when asked if he would like to be party president.

At the moment is supposed to be fighting a parliamentary election campaign but morale is low after the presidential defeat and opinion polls predict a poor showing made worse by the probable loss of votes to the far-right Front National.

Fillon, who has distanced himself from some of the UMP’s more right-wing proposals, such as the debate on national identity under Sarkozy’s presidency, intends to take over thehead of the party in the capital.

But, given the low expectations for the legislative polls, UMP big names already have their sights set on representing the party in the 2017 presidential election.

Fillon’s supporters have proposed that the mainstream right emulate the Socialists this year and hold primaries that they hope will mobilise supporters who do not hold a party card.

Sarkozy, who declared that he would become a “Frenchman like any other” after his election defeat is staying in a luxurious villa in Marrakesh as the guest of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI until the end of the month.

But the controversy over his reign has not ended. The presidency spent 9.4 million euros on 300 opinion polls and studies, according to figures obtained by Green party activist Raymond Avrillier, who claims that in part they represented a subsidy for his presidential campaign.

Subjects included responses to TV appearances by ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, while he was still expected to become a presidential candidate, and Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, as well as Socialist supporters views on “the Islam question”.

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