Socialists pick Martine Aubry as first female leader
Feuding socialists have finally picked Martine Aubry as their leader after last week’s high drama and bitter political infighting.
26 November 2008
PARIS – French Socialists declared Martine Aubry their new leader Tuesday after a bitter leadership fight that crippled the party and left it unable to provide an effective opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Aubry, who as labour minister gave France the much-maligned 35-hour work week, won a mere 102 votes more than the former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, according to official results of last Friday's ballot.
Despite challenging Aubry's early claim to victory at the weekend, Royal gave signs of conceding the leadership race Tuesday when she called on the party to "unite and re-group".
Meanwhile, during her first speech as the new Socialist leader, Aubry held out an olive branch to her rival saying she would seek Royal's help to breathe new life into the party.
"The conditions in which the vote took place and its close nature give me big duties. My first task, if she accepts, is to meet Segolene and tell her that I like her have heard the message from the members ...'we want a Socialist Party which backs up when we don't have the courage to fight.'"
"Together we will win for the French people," she added.
The leadership vote by card-carrying Socialists was meant to put an end to the infighting that has wracked a party which has failed to produce a French president since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.
But it has left the Socialists even deeper in disarray and even less capable of fighting Sarkozy, who has undermined the party by bringing some of its prominent members into his conservative government.
Initial results of the party members' ballot Friday gave Aubry a lead of 42 votes out of around 137,000 cast to decide who would replace Francois Hollande, Royal's former partner and the father of her four children.
But Royal immediately called foul and demanded verification of the result. Accusations and counter-accusations of cheating, treachery and slander then flew from both camps.
A party commission convened on Monday to examine complaints from both sides and the party's national council met on Tuesday to hear its findings and decide on the winner.
Meanwhile Royal's supporters showed continued signs of revolt by threatening Tuesday to keep open the option of launching a legal challenge if Aubry does not accept a new vote.
The feuding has pushed the already deeply-divided Socialist Party closer to a formal split between the leftist old guard backing Aubry, who is currently the mayor of Lille, and Royal's centre-left followers.
Sarkozy's right-wing supporters meanwhile are chuckling with delight as the Socialists go for each other's jugulars.
The party now holds a minority in parliament but controls 21 of France's 22 regional councils and also key cities such as Paris, Lyon and Toulouse.
As the new party leader, Aubry will be in pole position to be Socialist standard-bearer for the 2012 presidential election.
Her first order of business will be to unite the party and show she is not the captain of a sinking ship, but many analysts doubt whether that can be achieved.
Royal had campaigned on a promise to reshape France's left by opening the party's doors to a younger membership and possibly forging an alliance with centrists.
Aubry has vowed to keep the party "solidly anchored on 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.
[AFP / Expatica]