France’s Socialists clash as Aubry wins leadership vote

24th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

The French Socialist party was in disarray as Segolene Royal accuses former labour minister Martine Aubry of vote-tampering.

24 November 2008
PARIS – France's opposition Socialists sank deeper into civil war Sunday, with Segolene Royal crying foul after losing a leadership vote to the woman who gave France the 35-hour working week.

"So Much Hatred!" said the front-page headline of the Journal du Dimanche, above photos of Royal, who was defeated by the right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy in last year's presidential election, and former labour minister Martine Aubry.

"The risk of a split (in the party) can no longer be dismissed," the Sunday newspaper continued, while the front page of Le Parisien showed the Socialists' red rose symbol split in two alongside the headline: "The Rift."

Last week's leadership vote was meant to put an end to the infighting that has for years wracked a party that has failed to produce a French president since Francois Mitterrand was defeated in 1995.

But it has left the Socialists even deeper in disarray and even less able to provide an effective opposition to Sarkozy, who has undermined the party by bringing some of its prominent members into his conservative government.

Aubry, 58, who is mayor of the northern city of Lille and architect of the 35-hour working week, was declared the winner by a mere 42 votes out of more than 137,000 cast in a ballot by party members on Friday.

Royal, 55, immediately accused the rival camp of vote-tampering and demanded a re-vote.

"I am not going to take this," she told AFP, denouncing what she called "methods from another era."

Aubry shot back that "there is no reason" for a new ballot. She appealed to the rival camp to "act responsibly or else our party's situation will only get worse".

Recounts were under way Sunday in some areas.

Outgoing leader Francois Hollande, Royal's former partner in personal life, has called an emergency meeting of the party's national council for Tuesday that will likely validate the result.

Manuel Valls, a Royal supporter, said Sunday that a formal legal complaint would be lodged for "false entry" in the recording of the results of the second round in an area in Lille.

That prompted an Aubry aide to say he would sue Valls for slander.

The dispute pushed the already deeply-divided Socialist Party closer to a formal split and a full-blown confrontation between the leftist old guard backing Aubry and Royal's centre-left followers.

Aubry won 50.02 percent of the vote against 49.98 percent for Royal, according to official results.

Royal, who is eager for a rematch with Sarkozy in 2012, had come out in pole position in the first round of voting on Thursday, but fell short of a winning majority.

She had campaigned on a promise to reshape France's left by opening the Socialist Party's doors to a younger membership and possibly forging an alliance with centrists.

Aubry has vowed to keep the party "solidly anchored to the left," warning that a shift to the centre would alienate its traditional voter base at a time when the financial crisis has revived leftist state-driven economics.

A plain, no-nonsense politician, Aubry harboured a personal enmity toward the glamorous Royal, dismissing her as a self-centred political lightweight who sought to turn the party into her own personal electoral machine.

The new leader's first order of business will be to unite the party and show that she is not the captain of a sinking ship, but many analysts doubt whether that can be achieved.

Olivier Besancenot, the leader of the far-left Communist Revolutionary League, said Sunday that voters seeking a real opposition party "cannot count on the Socialist Party regardless of who is leading it".

Sarkozy's UMP party scoffed at the outcome of the leadership race.

One party official said the Socialists were engaged in "a combat of egos in an ideological desert," while another said there was "clearly an implosion in the Socialist Party."

[AFP / Expatica]

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