Copé, Fillon sling mud as Sarkozy party leadership vote descends into farce

The election for the leadership of France’s opposition right wing party, the UMP, descended into farce on Sunday night with both candidates for the post claiming victory, each accusing the other’s supporters of fraud.

Reuters/Jean-Yves Bonvarlet

At eleven thirty on Sunday night, incumbent leader Jean-François Copé, declared himself the victor, and just a few minutes later, challenger François Fillon, the favourite in polls, and Prime Minister throughout Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, also claimed victory.

Counting has resumed this morning, after the electoral commission charged with running and monitoring the operation suspended the count in the middle of the night.

Jean-François Copé alleges “ballot-stuffing” in some polling stations around the cote d’Azur, while Fillon talked of “massive fraud” around the Marseilles area.

On Monday morning some of Copé’s sympathisers were calling for the results in areas where malpractice is alleged, to be disregarded. Some supporters of Fillon want the whole election re-run.

Former Prime Minister and UMP heavyweight Alain Juppé has called on both men to “cease their invective” and to agree to accept the final results of the electoral commission, “as a foundation for a necessary reconciliation”.

Writing in his blog on Monday, Juppé expressed his concern that the party was in danger of splitting up, at a time when he said France urgently needed a pugnacious opposition.

Members of President François Hollande’s Socialist party are delighted by the debacle.

They endured a similar situation in 2008 when Ségolène Royal (defeated presidential candidate in 2007 and François Hollande’s former partner) refused to accept that Martine Aubry had won the party leadership. The acrimony between the two women lasted for nearly four years.

And today’s spotlight on the confusion and mudslinging around the UMP election is a welcome change for the Socialist-led government, which has had a rough time in the French press recently.

Copé and Fillon both have their eyes on France’s next presidential election, due in 2017, and see the UMP leadership as a good launching pad, though there is no guarantee that the party leader will be the candidate for the mainstream right.

Jean-François Copé has already said that if defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy decides to stand again in 2017, at the moment an unlikely scenario, then he would step aside in favour of Sarkozy.


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