Segolene Royal won a narrow victory Thursday in a key vote by the opposition Socialist Party. After three straight presidential defeats, the party remains divided by persistent questions over leadership and the way forward.
Former presidential candidate Segolene Royal came out on top early Friday as France's divided opposition Socialists held a key vote expected to set the stage for a brutal battle to elect a new leader who can build a challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Royal won about 29 percent, four points ahead of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and former employment minister Martine Aubry, among six contenders whose manifestos were put to a nationwide ballot of the party's 233,000 card-carrying members.
Stephane Le Foll, spokesman for outgoing party leader François Hollande, said the results of the vote were still incomplete.
With no one garnering a majority, a fierce leadership battle is expected at a party conference next week.
After three consecutive defeats in presidential elections, the Socialists have been bogged down in bitter infighting and unable to build a strong opposition to Sarkozy since he took office last year.
The endless squabbling has left most commentators wondering whether the party of the late president Francois Mitterrand can unite and become a governing force in time for the 2012 presidential vote.
Socialist minority leader in parliament Jean-Marc Ayrault warned that the party could degenerate into "mayhem" if the rank and file fail to deliver a clear message on the leadership choices.
"If no manifesto comes out on top, if they are pretty much neck and neck, then it's going to open up backroom scheming at the convention," Ayrault, who backs Delanoe, told Europe 1 radio.
"We need to have a clear vote or else we will have confusion and mayhem."
One of France's most popular politicians, the 58-year-old Delanoe has won the backing of Hollande, Royal's former partner who has been first secretary for the past 11 years.
His manifesto calls for a "decidedly reformist left, that is pro-European, pro-environment and efficient".
But the Paris mayor, France's only prominent openly-gay politician, has come under fire for declaring himself a "free-market advocate and a socialist" a few months before world markets were hit by the financial crisis.
Delanoe's main challenge comes from Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in the election last year after a campaign that saw her regularly assailed by party heavyweights.
Royal, 55, staged a Paris rally in September that was slammed by critics within the party after she showed up sporting a new shorter hairstyle and delivered a 45-minute soliloquy, likened to a standup act.
During her last appeal to party faithful on Wednesday, Royal offered to reimburse party dues to incite some of the many demoralised and disillusioned members to cast ballots.
A fierce Royal opponent, Aubry, 58, is shaping up as a wild card.
The architect of the 35-hour workweek has attracted a mixed bag of support, ranging from the market-friendly former economy minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who now heads the International Monetary Fund, and ex-prime minister Laurent Fabius, a euro-skeptic.
The result of the party vote was released early Friday, one week before a three-day conference opens in the eastern city of Reims to decide on a political programme and the leader who will be its standard-bearer.
Party members will formally elect a new leader on November 20, but that vote is expected to endorse the outcome of the Reims meeting.
Date created : 2008-11-07