Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

'Steely resolve of reporters exploited by pared-down employers'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US judge calls Argentina bond swap offer illegal

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Cécile Duflot ruffles some feathers

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Media accused of pro-protester bias in Ferguson

Read more

DEBATE

The Murderous Lure of Jihad: Tackling ISIS and its Worldwide Recruitment (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

The Murderous Lure of Jihad: Tackling ISIS and its Worldwide Recruitment

Read more

FOCUS

Republicans block Obama's bid to hike minimum wage

Read more

WEB NEWS

Calls for ISIS media blackout after execution of James Foley

Read more

WEB NEWS

Web users divided over Darren Wilson

Read more

  • Fear of Ebola sky-high among Air France workers

    Read more

  • US says Islamic State threat 'beyond anything we've seen'

    Read more

  • Malaysia mourns as remains of MH17 victims arrive home

    Read more

  • Hollande is ‘nobody’s president’ says former French minister

    Read more

  • Reporter’s IS captors taunted family, asked for €100m ransom

    Read more

  • Two US Ebola patients leave hospital ‘virus-free’

    Read more

  • Turkey’s Erdogan names foreign minister Davutoglu as next PM

    Read more

  • US reaches historic $16.7bn settlement with Bank of America

    Read more

  • Special report: Supplying Ukraine’s soldiers on the front line

    Read more

  • Israeli air strike kills three top Hamas commanders

    Read more

  • France delivered arms to Syrian rebels, Hollande confirms

    Read more

  • Tensions high in Yemen as Shiite rebel deadline looms

    Read more

  • Interactive: Relive the Liberation of Paris in WWII

    Read more

  • French village rallies behind besieged elderly British couple

    Read more

  • Former Irish PM Albert Reynolds dies at 81

    Read more

France

Far right's surge sows division within Sarkozy party

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-03-23

With over 200 runoffs opposing far-right and socialist candidates in local elections on Sunday, the ruling, centre-right party of President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to call for a left-wing vote, a position many in the party are uncomfortable with.

Five days before the second round of local elections, and in the wake of a first-round electoral drubbing, France’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) appears rife with division. Prime Minister François Fillon (pictured above), for one, has blatantly defied runoff guidelines by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In last Sunday’s elections, in which half of France’s 2,023 cantons, the country’s smallest territorial units, were up for grabs, the National Front (FN) set the stage for big political gains. The anti-immigration party led by Marine Le Pen won a place in the second round in 394 cantons, or one in five of all contested councils.

In half of those second-round races, National Front candidates will face Socialist challengers.

According to the conservative French daily Le Figaro, President Nicolas Sarkozy called a high-level meeting on Monday morning to establish an official position for the cantonal’s second round. The message, carried by the party's leader, Jean-François Copé, was clear: France’s ruling party would endorse neither the National Front nor the Socialist Party.

But speaking from his office later on Monday, Fillon told UMP party members faced with a local runoff between FN and Socialist candidates on March 27 to vote against the far right. “I will say it again, no vote from the right or centre should go to the far right…We need to remember our values, which are not those of the FN,” Fillon said.

Fending off attacks that the UMP was appeasing the far right, Copé told RTL radio he was not barring supporters from voting for the Socialists, but leaving the UMP’s rank and file free to take their own local pick.

A popular rift

The National Front’s recent surge has accentuated divisions within the UMP at a critical time. If relatively insignificant, Sunday’s cantonal polls are the final electoral contest before next year’s presidential race -- in which Sarkozy is hoping to secure a second term.

As with his successful campaign for the presidency in 2007, Sarkozy is expected to focus on convincing National Front members and sympathizers to vote for him.

“The UMP is confronted with a fundamental problem. It cannot seek an alliance with the National Front, which is siphoning votes from its candidates,” said Paul Taylor, an associate editor for Reuters news agency in Paris.

But fewer UMP leaders today seem to think this is a winning strategy. Some have questioned Sarkozy’s efforts to “hunt for votes on the same turf as the National Front”, as Taylor put it, and divisions within the ruling party’s leadership have been brewing for months.

Besides Fillon, a cast of UMP members have strayed off the official "cantonales" message. Former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who only a few months ago was considered a serious contender for the prime minister’s office, and Senate President Gérard Larcher have called on voters to rally behind Socialist candidates facing FN opponents.

Other influential UMP figures have defended the “neither” position, including government spokesperson and Budget Minister François Baroin, Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand, and Frédérick Lefebvre, the secretary of state for trade under Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Speaking to France Inter radio on Monday, Lefebvre said endorsing Socialists would legitimize the National Front’s discourse. “They want us to hand the FN a gift… Because the FN thrives by stating that the UMP and the Socialists are the same thing.”

Date created : 2011-03-22

  • FRANCE

    Big gains for far right in local polls

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    Socialists set to seize local seats from Sarkozy’s party

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    Far-right's Marine Le Pen leads in shock new poll

    Read more

COMMENT(S)