Chaos at vote to succeed Sarkozy as rivals claim win

November 20, 2012 - 4:03:45 am

PARIS: The battle to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of France’s right-wing opposition UMP party turned into a shambles yesterday, with both candidates claiming victory and trading accusations of electoral fraud.

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

Cope repeated his claim on breakfast television yesterday, 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 Francois Hollande.

Both camps claimed there were irregularities — and cheating — in voting in several areas, and the party’s electoral commission was yesterday 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 Juppe, 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. AFP