- Special Pages
PARIS: Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy waded in to a bitter leadership battle that has left France’s main right-wing opposition party, the UMP, on the verge of collapse. The UMP, the political heir to the party founded by Charles de Gaulle after World War II, was in turmoil after accusations of vote-rigging tarnished a leadership vote.
Still reeling from its loss of the presidency and parliament this year, the UMP is facing the spectre of an unprecedented split, with rivals Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Cope refusing to back down in an increasingly angry dispute. The ridicule foisted on the party over the leadership debacle has done serious damage to its image, benefitting Socialist President Francois Hollande as he struggles with a flat economy and dropping popularity.
Some UMP deputies were already raising the prospect yesterday of breaking away from the party’s parliamentary faction - a move that would deprive it of crucial public funding. Sarkozy met one of the rivals for the leadership, his former prime minister Fillon, for lunch after flying in early yesterday from a conference in Shanghai. The meeting lasted more than hour in Sarkozy’s office in central Paris but there were no immediate signs of progress in the dispute. A party heavyweight who earlier failed in a mediation bid had urged Sarkozy - still enormously popular with the UMP rank-and-file despite his loss to Hollande in May’s presidential vote - to intervene. “Clearly (Sarkozy) is the only one today to have enough authority to propose a way out,” former foreign minister Alain Juppe told RTL radio.
Fillon, 58, and Cope, 48, have traded accusations of fraud and ballot-rigging since last Sunday’s election for a party president ended with Cope ahead.
A party appeals commission confirmed Cope’s win, raising his margin of victory from 98 votes to nearly 1,000 following an examination of complaints over alleged irregularities. Fillon’s camp has accused the commission of bias and said he will pursue legal action including a civil suit to have the election results overturned.
“Once again Jean-Francois Cope has had himself declared president (of the UMP) by a coup,” Fillon said after the commission’s ruling, calling its decision “illegal” and saying it had “no guarantee of impartiality”.
Speaking at UMP headquarters, Cope called on the party to choose “forgiveness over division” and “the future over bitterness”.AFP