The Socialist leadership battle between former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and Lille Mayor Martine Aubry tightened after a second round of voting proved inconclusive. Royal demanded a fresh vote next week, her lawyer said.
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PARIS - The leadership battle for the French Socialist party is too close to call, former Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant told reporters on behalf of the bitterly divided Socialist party on Saturday, raising the prospect of a recount in the ballot between arch rivals Martine Aubry and Segolene Royal.
Royal demanded a fresh round of voting next Thursday after the second round of voting proved inconclusive, Royal's lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard said.
Supporters of Aubry, the architect of France's 35-hour work week, earlier claimed a narrow victory against Royal, who lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election and is looking to revive her political standing.
However, Royal's camp refused to concede defeat and a top party official told reporters the Socialists were not in a position to announce a winner.
"I cannot give a result at this time because the count is very close," said former Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant.
"Hasty declarations (of victory) do not help our task of coming up with a certain result," he added, giving no indication of when the position would be clearer.
Aubry's supporters had previously told reporters their candidate had won 50.5 percent of the vote with well over 90 percent of ballots counted, sparking protests from Royal's allies who hinted at foul play.
"We will not let them steal a victory," said Manuel Valls, a Royal supporter. Other backers said votes should be recounted.
One Socialist Party official said the two candidates might be separated by only about 200 votes when the tally of ballots cast by the 233,000-strong membership was finally completed.
"This is a catastrophic scenario. Neither of them has legitimacy, neither of them will be able to lead," said one senior party member, who declined to be identified.
The prospect of continued feuding on the left is likely to further strengthen the position of Sarkozy, who has faced little opposition so far in implementing his domestic reform programme.
Royal won the first round of the leadership vote on Thursday with a score of 42.5 percent, against 34.7 percent for Aubry and 22.8 percent for a third candidate, Benoit Hamon.
Since no one had an absolute majority, the top two candidates went to a run off vote.
Royal always faced an uphill task to maintain her lead, with critics accusing of her of being inconsistent, overbearing and quixotic, and saying that she planed to push the party to the political centre.
A broad array of disparate party veterans have rushed to the side of Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, confident that she will uphold traditional party dogma and prevent any drift to the centre.
Refounded by the late President Francois Mitterrand in 1971, the Socialist Party has been led for the past 11 years by Francois Hollande, Royal's estranged former partner.
The left has not won a presidential election for almost two decades and its last national parliamentary victory was in 1997.
If Aubry's election is confirmed, the Socialist old guard led by figures such as former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, are likely to see their influence grow while Royal and her inner circle could face the political wilderness.
Date created : 2008-11-22