France's divided socialists back Hollande

10th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 10 (AFP) - François Hollande, leader of France's bitterly divided socialists (PS), beat off opposing factions in an internal party vote Thursday to emerge in a dominant position ahead of a crucial congress being held next week.

PARIS, Nov 10 (AFP) - François Hollande, leader of France's bitterly divided socialists (PS), beat off opposing factions in an internal party vote Thursday to emerge in a dominant position ahead of a crucial congress being held next week.

Some 127,000 card-carrying members were choosing delegations to send to the party's three-yearly gathering -- opening in the western city of Le Mans on November 18 -- which will elect the party's inner leadership and set broad policy lines ahead of France's 2007 presidential election.

In an atmosphere of deep internecine hostility, 56 percent voted for the set of proposals backed by Hollande and other party heavyweights including former ministers Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Martine Aubry and Jack Lang, according to provisional results.

Some 24 percent voted for the motion of a left-wing faction called the New Socialist Party led by Arnaud Montebourg and Vincent Peillon, and only 19 percent for the ideas of the former prime minister Laurent Fabius.

As the make-up of delegations will be based on the share-out of votes for the different motions, the results meant that even if Hollande's opponents present a common front he will still have a clear majority at the congress.

Hollande summoned the congress several months ahead of its due date in order to clarify the party's position following bitter internal divisions over the European constitution, which was rejected by the French public in a referendum on May 29.

While the official leadership of the PS backed the EU treaty, Hollande was openly defied both by Fabius and by left-wingers in the party who said the constitution was a sell-out to big business and urged a no vote.

In a sign of continuing bad blood, aides to Fabius on Thursday accused the party leadership of ballot-stuffing in order to secure a outright majority for Hollande.

"There have been massive irregularities to the benefit of the existing leadership," said Claude Bartolone. "The question is whether a party that claims the right to run the country should cheat its own elections," said Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The PS governed France from 1997 to 2002 under prime minister Lionel Jospin, but lost power after a presidential election in which Jospin was humiliatingly beaten into third place by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It has since struggled to find a coherent voice -- torn between the supporters of an accommodation with free-market capitalism and advocates of a clean break -- and the party has been unable to draw much benefit from the difficulties facing the government of President Jacques Chirac.

"In France the Socialist party is aging, it has a declining membership, and is characterised by an over-representation in the public sector," lamented Libération newspaper, which normally backs the PS.

Though Hollande's position appeared secure for the Le Mans congress, bitter arguments remain ahead -- notably over the party's nomination for the 2007 presidential race.

The party leader has never served in government and is accused by some of lacking the necessary charisma for a presidential bid. He faces possible challenges from several well-known names including Fabius, Strauss-Kahn and even Jospin.

Hollande's own partner, Segolène Royale, who is also a leading PS member, has also been named as a possible candidate.

The Le Mans congress brings together some 3,500 delegates from regional branches appointed in proportion to the success of the various motions. These in turn elect the party's 200-member national council, which then chooses the inner leadership committee or secretariat.

Previous congresses have been the occasion for embarrassing outbursts of anger between different factions -- notably at Rennes in 1990 when rival supporters of Jospin and Fabius engaged in stand-up rows in front of the television cameras.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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