Rivals Copé and Fillon agree new leadership vote for Sarkozy's UMP

Reuters/Jean-Yves Bonvarlet

The rivals in the leadership row which split Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing French former ruling party, the UMP, agreed on Monday to a new internal election after a bitterly-contested first vote last month.


Jean-Francois Copé, the election's disputed victor, and his rival Francois Fillon, Sarkozy's former prime minister, said in a statement they had agreed to hold a new vote by October next year for the leadership of the Union for a Popular Movement.

A first round of voting could be held on September 15, but close aides to Fillon have said the former prime minister might decide not to stand in the election.

The deal is intended to put an end to a month-long acrimonious dispute which almost caused the collapse of the party, and led Fillon to create his own splinter group, the Rally for the UMP (R-UMP), depriving the UM of 68 of its 194 members of parliament.

The post of UMP party leader is seen as the inside track to a candidacy for France’s next presidential election in 2017.

Until this deal, Copé had refused any fresh vote before the 2014 local elections.

Both Fillon, 58, and Copé, 48, who will lead the party until the election, are fiscal conservatives advocating free-market policies and economic reforms, but Copé has carved out a niche on the right of the UMP with his tough-talking approach to immigration and some issues surrounding France’s muslim population.

Sarkozy, who will be 58 next month, has no official post in the UMP after his defeat in the May presidential election to Socialist Francois Hollande but he is anxious to keep the UMP together in case he decides to make a comeback bid for the presidency in 2017.

Sources close to the former president have said he was furious at the deadlock which followed the November 18 election which was marred by allegations of irregularities and ballot-stuffing.

Both Copé and Fillon have suffered in opinion polls in the wake of the election upset.

A BVA poll published on Monday showed that only 16 percent of respondents had
a positive opinion of Copé, down 11 points in a month.

His popularity plunged 29 percent with party supporters to 28 percent, making him the most unpopular politician on the French right.

Fillon lost six percentage points to 39 percent among the French public, with support from his party dropping 10 percent to 62 percent.


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