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article imageBitter contest as French opposition UMP finally elect new leader

By Robert Myles     Nov 20, 2012 in Politics
After a marathon election which made the 2008 Florida Presidential vote wrangle look like an exercise in electoral efficiency, France’s opposition UMP have elected 48 year old Jean-François Copé as its leader.
Copé was declared the winner of the race to lead the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) in preference to the favourite in the contest François Fillon, the former Prime Minister under President Sarkozy. The margin was a mere 98 votes, with Copé polling 50.03% and Fillon 49.97% reports the New York Times.
The two rivals fought a bitter campaign punctuated by claim and counterclaim of fraud. The contest will have done little to improve the image of the centre-right UMP which is still smarting from the defeat of former leader Nicolas Sarkozy by current presidential incumbent Françoise Hollande in the race to the Élysée Palace and the party’s defeat by the French Socialists in the elections to the French legislature.
Jean-François Copé: ‘My arms are wide open’
Speaking after the result of the UMP leadership election was finally announced, Copé was anxious to put the bitterness of the campaign behind him and extended an olive branch to his rival, Fillon, “I propose a new vision for the reconstruction of the opposition during this painful period. It is time for the opposition to get to work. It is in this spirit that I propose that François Fillon should join me. My hands and arms are wide open. It is time for us to put this election behind us and get to work. I would like to say to one and all that this time for action should be conducted in good spirit. In my mind and in my heart, I hold no bitterness or rancour. That which brings us together is much greater than that which sets us apart. Our real opponent is the Left,” reports Liberation.
During the campaign both the Fillon and Copé camps had accused the other of voting irregularities, reports France 24. There were claims of more votes having been counted than there were registered voters. Former French Prime Minister François Fillon was widely expected to win the ballot and his supporters originally claimed victory by 244 votes. That was countered by the Copé camp who said the challenger was ahead by more than 1,000 ballots. The official announcement gave victory to Copé by a wafer thin 98 votes.
The disarray within the UMP, currently France’s largest opposition party, may have helped the extreme right Front National under their leader Marine Le Pen. The shambolic election drew derision from the Front National which has set its sights on overhauling the UMP has the main right wing voice in French politics. Said Florian Philipott, deputy leader of the Front National, “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.”
Copé, like Fillon, is a supporter of free market policies and economic reform which many financial commentators see as being essential to France’s future prosperity. Copé, however, is also seen as likely to court the extreme right wing vote in an effort to stem UMP votes leeching away to the Front National. He supports tougher immigration laws and has also advocated a firm approach to re-affirm France’s secular constitution when it comes to Muslim integration. Only last month, Copé published Manifeste pour une droite décomplexée (A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right) in which he strongly criticised a culture of what he termed “anti-white racism” in immigrant communities in the vast banlieues or estates on the outskirts of France’s larger cities.
Update November 22
There are reports today that overseas UMP member votes may not have been tallied in the final count for the election of a new UMP leader. The mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé has said he is willing to step in interim leader of the opposition UMP as long as his interim appointment is agreed by both leadership rivals.
The 'missing' overseas votes put François Fillon ahead of rival Jean-François Copé by 26 votes, a reversal of the result announced earlier this week, says TheConnexion.
It reports a source close to Juppé telling Le Figaro newspaper: “To organise an interim leader, both parties need to be in agreement. There is nothing to indicate Jean-François Copé is prepared.”
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