Feuding French Socialists have picked Martine Aubry as their first female leader after a bitter leadership contest against opponent Segolene Royal. Aubry won by just 102 votes after more than 130,000 party members cast their ballot.
French Socialists declared Martine Aubry their new leader Tuesday after a bitter leadership fight that crippled the party and left it unable to provide an effective opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Aubry, who as labour minister gave France the much-maligned 35-hour work week, won a mere 102 votes more than the former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, according to official results of last Friday's ballot.
The leadership vote by card-carrying Socialists was meant to put an end to the infighting that has for years wracked a party which has failed to produce a French president since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.
But it has left the Socialists even deeper in disarray and even less capable of fighting Sarkozy, who has undermined the party by bringing some of its prominent members into his conservative government.
Aubry had already claimed victory at the weekend.
Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici explains how Aubry must work to unite her fractured party
Initial results of the party members' ballot gave her a lead of 42 votes out of around 137,000 cast to decide who would replace François Hollande, Royal's former partner and the father of her four children.
But Royal immediately called foul and demanded verification of the result. Accusations and counter-accusations of cheating, treachery and slander then flew from both camps.
A party commission convened on Monday to examine complaints from both sides and the party's national council met on Tuesday to hear its findings and decide on the winner.
The feuding has pushed the already deeply-divided Socialist Party closer to a formal split between the leftist old guard backing Aubry, who is currently the mayor of Lille, and Royal's centre-left followers.
Sarkozy's right-wing supporters meanwhile are chuckling with delight as the Socialists go for each other's jugulars.
The party now holds a minority in parliament but controls 21 of France's 22 regional councils and also key cities such as Paris, Lyon and Toulouse.
The new party leader will be in pole position to be Socialist standard-bearer for the 2012 presidential election.
Her first order of business will be to unite the party and show she is not the captain of a sinking ship, but many analysts doubt whether that can be acheived.
Royal had campaigned on a promise to reshape France's left by opening the party's doors to a younger membership and possibly forging an alliance with centrists.
Aubry has vowed to keep the party "solidly anchored on 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.
The Socialist leader in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, had called on the two women to call a truce and come to agreement.
"We must stop this totally ridiculous soap opera," Ayrault told French television. "Whoever leads the Socialist Party tomorrow will not be able to do so without the others."
Date created : 2008-11-26