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Latest update : 2008-11-24

France's feuding Socialists on Monday began examining allegations of irregularities in a party leadership vote that saw Martine Aubry, architect of the 35-hour work week, beat failed presidential candidate Ségolène Royal by a handful of votes.

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PARIS - France's stricken Socialist Party launched a review on Monday of its disputed leadership vote in an attempt to stop the chaos that has broken out since Martine Aubry won a razor-thin victory over Segolene Royal.

Party officials said on Saturday that Aubry, the woman behind the 35-hour working week law, beat Royal, the Socialist candidate in last year's presidential election, by 0.04 percentage points, or 42 votes, in Friday's leadership election.

Royal disputes the result and wants a re-run, and the feuding factions are on the brink of lawsuits with each side accusing the other of cheating and slander.

Infighting has paralysed the Socialists as an opposition force to right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy since Royal lost badly to him in May 2007, and the acrimony has reached a new pitch since the inconclusive leadership vote.

The party now looks at risk of falling apart altogether, or becoming completely ungovernable and lurching from crisis to crisis, unable to mount a credible challenge to Sarkozy in the next presidential election in 2012.

A commission of party officials, including three representatives each from the Royal and Aubry camps, started on Monday a detailed review of the results of Friday's vote.
It will pass its findings to the party's ruling body, which must say on Tuesday whether the result is valid or not.

"I would like the commission to say ... whether a new vote is needed, either because the figures are unclear, or because some information is not available, or because the result is much too tight," Royal said on France Inter radio on Monday.

She pledged to accept the result, even if she were declared the loser, but only if the reports of irregularities at some voting stations were fully investigated and the gap between her and Aubry were sufficiently wide. She declined to say what she would consider a wide enough gap.

Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, has claimed outright victory in the race and called on party members at the weekend to put their differences behind them and rally to her cause.

Grassroots supporters of the telegenic Royal see her as a force for renewal capable of enthusing the masses, while her opponents accuse her of lacking depth and consistency. Aubry is backed by the "elephants", the veteran party heavyweights.

The Socialists have lost the last three presidential elections, two to Jacques Chirac and one to Sarkozy. They have been plagued by divisions since their uncontested leader, former President Francois Mitterrand, died in 1996.

Royal, who was hampered in her 2007 presidential campaign by a lack of support from the elephants, had hoped to take over the party and unify it behind her by 2012, but hopes of renewed party harmony have been shattered.

Date created : 2008-11-24