Paris (AFP) – The rivals to lead France’s main right-wing opposition party, the UMP, clashed again on Sunday as a political heavyweight, called in to mediate their damaging dispute, said he saw little chance of success.
The turmoil has tarnished the image of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP – still reeling from its loss of the presidency and parliament this year – and raised the spectre of a split on the right that would benefit the ruling Socialists.
Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, 58, and ambitious UMP secretary general Jean-Francois Cope, 48, have traded accusations of fraud and bad faith since last Sunday’s party vote ended with Cope ahead by a handful of votes.
Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, called in to help end the crisis, said he was pessimistic ahead of talks between the two rivals planned for Sunday evening.
“I am doing everything I can to succeed even if there is very little chance,” Juppe told French media. “If they do not accept (his conditions), I will withdraw, it’s no big deal, they will sort themselves out.”
A meeting of UMP officials aimed at resolving ballot disputes collapsed Sunday, with Fillon representatives walking out after about an hour. A lawyer for the Cope camp accused them of “choosing to desert” the talks.
Sunday’s meeting with Juppe will be the first time the rivals have met face-to-face since the leadership contest to replace Sarkozy, who lost to Socialist Francois Hollande in May’s presidential vote, descended into chaos.
Cope was declared the winner of the leadership battle by a margin of just 98 votes in a contest in which more than 150,000 party members voted.
The party electoral commission has since said that ballots cast in France’s overseas territories that were not counted would have reversed the result, while the Cope camp has claimed he would have won by a clear margin but for vote-rigging in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
The party has faced ridicule over the leadership debacle, at a time it could be taking advantage of Hollande’s falling popularity over his handling of France’s struggling economy.
In an IFOP poll published Sunday by newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, 71 per cent of respondents and 67 per cent of UMP supporters said the leadership vote should be run again.