• France's news in English

UMP leader election descends into farce

AFP · 19 Nov 2012, 16:58

Published: 19 Nov 2012 16:58 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Jean-François Copé, the party's firebrand secretary-general, declared to cheering supporters after voting closed late Sunday that he was the victor, but ex-prime minister François Fillon announced just minutes later that he had won.

Copé repeated his claim on breakfast television on Monday, as Fillon supporters took to the airwaves to insist their man had triumphed in the vote that came six months after Sarkozy lost the presidential election to the Socialist François Hollande.

Both camps claimed there were irregularities – and cheating – in voting in several areas, and the party's electoral commission was Monday recounting ballots and aiming to declare the official winner later in the day.

The public slanging match, reminiscent of the bitter infighting that for years dogged the Socialist party, reached such a pitch that #UMP became the top trending hashtag on the French edition of Twitter, where the candidates were the targets of a deluge of mockery.

UMP party heavyweight Alain Juppé, who was Sarkozy's foreign minister, pleaded with the pair to put a stop to their supporters' "invectives" and warned that "the very existence of the UMP is in question".

"The movement has emerged divided and thus weakened by this excessive confrontation. Throughout the campaign, it has been less a question of the future of the UMP and more about the two candidates' obsession with 2017," he wrote on his blog.

That is the date of the next presidential election.

Most UMP supporters want Sarkozy to stand for presidency

But whoever emerges as the new leader is not certain to be the party's candidate then as Sarkozy – whom polls say most UMP supporters want to have another tilt at the presidency – has not ruled out a return to politics.

Both Fillon, 58, and Copé, 48, are advocates of free market policies and economic reform. But they differ on social issues, with Cope sharing Sarkozy's tough-talking approach to immigration and Islam.

Aides to Copé, who accused Fillon supporters of "ballot stuffing" and "major fraud", said he had won 1,000 more votes than his rival in a poll in which more than half of the UMP's 300,000 members had cast their ballots.

Fillon said he was 224 votes ahead.

Fillon appeared more conciliatory on Monday morning. He still insisted he was ahead but added in a statement that "only the official and definitive figures will enable us to resolve the situation".

Whoever emerges as the new UMP leader will be taking over a party well-placed to capitalise on Hollande's slump in popularity and the economic gloom engulfing France.

But he may also face a difficult task in uniting the party after a bitter battle that delighted the UMP's rivals.

Story continues below…

"It is obvious that whoever is elected president of the UMP will have no legitimacy whatsoever given that he will be in charge of a party broken in two," said Florian Philipott, deputy leader of the far-right National Front.

Fillon, who was prime minister for five years under Sarkozy, went into the vote as the marginal favourite, hoping to sell himself as a unity candidate capable of attracting centrist voters.

He accused his rival of opportunism, while seeking to portray himself as an experienced statesman – a stance that prompted Copé to dismiss him as the "Hollande of the right," in a reference to the president's perceived lack of charisma and reputation for dithering.

Copé has taken up where Sarkozy left off, unabashed in his bid to woo voters from the far-right National Front, whose historically strong score at this year's presidential election split the right-wing vote and torpedoed Sarkozy's re-election bid.

Copé last month published "A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right", in which he lambasted a culture of "anti-white racism" amongst immigrant communities in impoverished urban areas.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Is Marks & Spencer to close Champs-Elysées store?
Photo: AFP

Is it goodbye to crumpets, jam, and English biscuits?

After Calais, France faces growing migrant crisis in Paris
Photo: AFP

While all the focus has been on the closure of the Jungle in Calais, France must deal with the thousands of migrants sleeping rough in Paris. And their numbers are growing.

Restaurant boss suspected of kidnapping Cannes millionaire
The Nice residence of the president of Cannes' Grand Hotel, Jacqueline Veyrac. Photo: AFP

A restaurant owner 'harbouring a grudge', apparently.

Le Thought du Jour
Vive le pont - The best thing about French public holidays
Photo: AFP

The UK might have guaranteed public holidays, but France has "les ponts".

What's on in France: Top things to do in November
Don't miss the chocolate fashion show in Lyon. Photo: Salon du chocolat

The autumn is in full swing in France, and there's plenty to do.

What Paris 'squalor pit' Gare du Nord will look like in future
All photos: Wilmotte et Assoicés

IN PICTURES: The universally accepted 'squalor pit of Europe' is finally getting a facelift.

Halloween: The ten spookiest spots in Paris
Is there really a ghost on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower? Photo: AFP

Read at your own peril.

Halloween holiday in France: Traffic nightmares and sun!
Photo: AFP

But it's great news for the country's beleaguered tourism industry.

French MPs vote to make Airbnb 'professionals' pay tax
Photo: AFP

Do you make a lot of money through Airbnb in France? You'll have to pay a share to the taxman in future.

France and Britain accused of abandoning Calais minors
Photo: AFP

Scores of young migrants are forced to sleep rough for a second night.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Paris landlords still charging illegally high rents
Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
How speaking French can really mess up your English
The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
jobs available