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Video by Aurore Cloé DUPUIS

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2008-11-26

Lille Mayor Martine Aubry has won the Socialist Party's leadership vote, beating rival Ségolène Royal by a razor-thin margin. The gap narrowed to 18 votes after a local party branch flagged a vote-counting error.


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An eerie silence reigned over the Socialist Party’s Paris headquarters on Saturday, as bewildered journalists attempted in vain to make sense of the wrangling that followed Friday’s leadership vote. A day after party members gave Lille Mayor Martine Aubry a razor-thin majority over former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, the battle between their supporters continues unabated. Never has the party been so torn apart.  


The electoral night was eventful, to say the least. Royal was about to celebrate her victory, when rumours late on Friday suggested Aubry had snatched the vote. “I won’t give up,” was Royal’s immediate reaction. Later, supporters could be seen hurling abuse at each other outside the party’s headquarters. Official results came through in the early hours of the morning, handing the mayor of Lille 50.02% of the 134,784 votes cast and giving her a margin of just 42 ballots over her rival.


The Royal camp was quick to denounce “frauds” in local branches known to be Aubry strongholds. “There were cases of cheating,” said Manuel Valls, one of Royal’s right-hand men, drawing a parallel with the contested Florida vote during the 2000 US presidential election. He called for a fresh vote next Thursday.


Yet, the winning side pointed out that representatives of the Royal camp had validated the vote in the branches where it was called into question. In response, they accused regions favouring Royal of vote-rigging.


No sooner had Aubry pledged to become “a leader for all Socialists” in a speech on Saturday evening, than a party branch in the country’s east flagged a vote-counting error, further reducing the gap to a mere 18 votes.


The party’s top brass to meet on Tuesday


Such is the rift between the two camps that outgoing party leader François Hollande has emerged from his quiet retreat to try and heal the dispute. Calling on everyone to respect party procedures and show “sense of responsibility,” Hollande convened a meeting of the party’s central committee for Tuesday evening.


However, the Royal camp is hardly in favour of an internal solution given its relative weakness in the party’s governing bodies. “Resorting to a new vote by supporters is the only path out of this crisis,” said Valls, before raising the prospect of legal action.


‘The Socialists’ aptitude for self-destruction’


As the internal strife rages on, some wonder whether the very survival of the party is at stake. “We risk confusion, not a break-up,” tempered Hollande. Nonetheless, the stand-off between the two camps is likely to endure. “One can hardly imagine Ségolène Royal backing down. The hatred between the two women is vivid,” explained FRANCE 24’s political editor, Roselyne Febvre.


Meanwhile, France’s rightwing government is gloating over the Socialists’ infighting. “The party has imploded,” said Frédéric Lefebvre, spokesman for the ruling UMP party, while fellow party member Dominique Paillé hailed “the Socialist Party’s aptitude for self-destruction”.


Date created : 2008-11-22