The bitter battle to lead the socialists tightened between former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and Lille mayor Martine Aubry. The Socialist party declined to announce the results saying they are too close to call.
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The bitter battle to lead the French Socialist Party tightened between former presidential candidate Segolene Royal and Lille Mayor Martine Aubry, the architect of the 35-hour work week.
The Socialist Party declined to announce the winner right away saying the result was "too close to call".
"Many Socialist Party members have been voting. I don't have the exact figures yet, since people are still voting overseas and so, the results are too close to call. I can't tell you right now who will win the vote, " Former Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant told reporters late Friday night.
The two candidates personal enmity and contrasting styles have been as much of a factor in the battle to lead the opposition as have their policy platforms.
Royal, who was defeated by rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy in last year's presidential elections, came out ahead in a first round of voting by party members on Thursday, winning 43 percent of the vote.
But third-place contender, Euro-MP Benoit Hamon, threw his support behind Aubry, the mayor of the northern city of Lille, after he was knocked out of the race with nearly 23 percent of the vote.
If his supporters follow suit, that would give Aubry, who garnered close to 35 percent, enough votes to win a majority and take the helm of the divided and troubled party.
The party's 233,000 members were choosing a leader to replace Francois Hollande, Royal's former partner, after a congress meant to unite behind a consensus candidate ended in disarray at the weekend.
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.
The new party leader will be in a strong position to seek the party nomination and challenge Sarkozy in the 2012 elections.
But the 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.
While both Royal and Aubry are in their 50s, former ministers and graduates of the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) school, the similarities end there.
Aubry's plain, no-nonsense looks clash with Royal's glamourous image.
Royal has 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 has defended the status quo and warned that a shift to the centre would alienate the party's traditional electoral base at a time when leftist ideas of state-driven economics are back in vogue with the financial crisis.
"I offer the guarantee of change, of a party anchored to the left but also open to new ideas," Royal said in her final pitch before voting started at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) Friday.
Voting was to end five hours later and results announced in the early hours on Saturday.
One of Royal's fiercest enemies, Aubry told supporters that she was ready to lead the party through "deep changes" and ensure it "defends leftist values."
Royal has been accused of seeking to transform the party into her own personal electoral machine for the 2012 vote, instead of fostering a forum for alternative policy to the right-wing government.
While Royal remains popular with the rank-and-file, many of the party barons have turned against her, blaming her for the defeat in last year's elections.
Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission president Jacques Delors, is making a return after several years spent in the political wilderness in city affairs 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.
Date created : 2008-11-22