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Martine Aubry wins Socialist leadership poll by 42 votes

Video by Richard TOMPSETT

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-22

Lille Mayor Martine Aubry won the Socialist Party's leadership vote with 50.02%, beating rival Ségolène Royal by 42 votes, the party leadership announced. Royal has demanded a fresh vote.


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Martine Aubry, who gave France the 35-hour work week, edged out ex-presidential candidate Segolene Royal on Saturday to win the leadership of the opposition Socialist Party by a few dozen votes.
But Royal, who lost to right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in last year's presidential elections, cried foul and demanded a new vote, sparking a fresh crisis in the already deeply divided party.
Aubry won 50.02 percent of the vote by party members, taking a razor-thin lead of just 42 votes against Royal, who scored 49.98 percent, according to official results
"I am not going to take this," Royal told AFP after Aubry's supporters claimed victory in the early hours Saturday.
Royal convened a crisis meeting of her team and her lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard said she was seeking a re-vote for next week.
"We have noted that there were many disputes that arose here and there concerning the voting operations," said Mignard.
"These irregularities should lead, at the very least, to multiple verifications that may be difficult and even impossible to make," he said.
"That is why Segolene Royal is proposing that we vote again, which appears to be the only acceptable and dignified solution."
But Aubry, the 58-year-old mayor of Lille, rejected the proposal out of hand and said "there is no reason" for a new vote. Outgoing leader Francois Hollande called an emergency meeting of the party's top council.
Aubry's victory by the slimmest of margins capped weeks of bitter campaigning that deepened divisions within the party, with Aubry herself warning last week that Socialists needed to "get their act together" or face extinction.
For Royal, who had come out in pole position in the first round, the defeat was a crippling blow to her stated ambition to lead the party's renewal and stand again as its candidate in the 2012 vote.
The 55-year-old president of the Poitou-Charentes regional council had promised to reshape France's left by opening the party's doors to a young membership and possibly forging an alliance with centrists to beat Sarkozy.
Aubry had vowed to keep the party "solidly anchored to 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.
Aubry's first order of business will be to unite the party and show that she is not the captain of a sinking ship.
After three consecutive defeats in presidential elections, the Socialists have been bogged down in internal squabbling and unable to score any points off Sarkozy since he took office last year.
Battling nearly a year of low approval ratings, Sarkozy has recently seen his poll figures bounce back over his hands-on response to the financial crisis and France's high-profile presidency of the European Union.
Monopolized by their own internal turmoil, the Socialists have failed to mount a credible challenge to the right-wing government's agenda for economic reform and an overhaul of the state's generous social programmes.
The bitter infighting has left most commentators wondering whether the party of late president Francois Mitterrand can overcome its divisions and become a potential governing force in time for 2012.
A plain, no-nonsense politician, Aubry harboured a personal enmity toward Royal, dismissing her as a self-centred political lightweight who sought to turn the party into her own personal electoral machine.
Contrary to Royal who has made clear she is eager for a rematch with Sarkozy, Aubry has kept silent about her ambitions, arguing that the party leadership must be separate from the presidential nomination, set for 2011.
The daughter of former European Commission president Jacques Delors is to succeed Hollande, Royal's former partner, who was at the party's helm for the past 11 years.
Aubry's election as Socialist Party leader marks her comeback after several years spent in the political wilderness in municipal politics in northern France.
As labour minister in the late 1990s, Aubry drafted legislation creating the 35-hour work week, a flagship Socialist measure that Sarkozy has sought to unravel and which has been criticised even within the party.
A first round of voting by the party's 233,000 members was held on Thursday after a congress meant to unite the party behind a consensus candidate ended in disarray at the weekend.
Royal and Aubry emerged as the top two vote-getters, but the third-place contender, Euro-MP Benoit Hamon, called on his supporters to vote for Aubry, tipping the balance in her favour.

Date created : 2008-11-22