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PARIS: France’s right-wing opposition UMP yesterday appeared headed for a split after a poisonous leadership battle as the twice declared winner Jean-Francois Cope rejected demands for a fresh vote.
The UMP, the political heir to the party founded by Charles de Gaulle after World War II, faces one of the worst crises in its history after accusations of rigging marred a November 18 election pitting former premier Francois Fillon against hardline rival Cope.
Cope, an ally of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, yesterday brushed aside Sarkozy’s suggestion — reported by several informed sources — for a fresh ballot, as his defeated rival also dug in his heels. “The time is not right in the heat of the moment, in the bitterness ...to say we must vote again right away,” Cope said on France Info radio.
But Fillon struck back after a meeting with his supporters, who said they were launching a new parliamentary faction which would be dissolved as soon as a new vote was held.
At a peacemaking lunch on Monday with Fillon, Sarkozy said holding a new vote would “avoid an escalation of the conflict”, a party source said — an account confirmed by both Fillon and Cope loyalists in the party. Cope also said he had spoken to his mentor at length and denied that Sarkozy wanted a revote.
“This is what is being attributed to him. I have not personally heard him say that,” he said. Cope said under party statutes a new election would take at least six months to allow time for campaigning. “The time has now come to prepare for the future, to see how the statutes can be modified” to make the party play its rightful role as an opposition group, he said.