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Sarkozy's UMP seeks to discredit socialist primaries

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2011-06-21

For the first time in October, every French citizen who is ready to declare "sympathy with the left" will be able to vote in primaries to choose the socialist candidate in the 2012 presidential vote. The ruling UMP says the system is open to abuse.

The French ruling UMP party has launched an offensive aimed at discrediting the opposition Socialist Party (PS) primaries which are due to take place in October.

The attack comes one week before the deadline for candidates to declare themselves for the key ballot.

The PS are holding the primaries, in which any French citizen “who sympathises with the left” can vote (whether or not they end up supporting the PS), to pick one candidate to represent the party in next spring’s presidential election.

Previous PS primaries were restricted to party members. October’s vote, being open to anyone, changes the landscape of the political left. And with a successful conclusion, the socialists hope they can put up a united front ahead of next year’s presidential poll.

Until a month ago, the PS’s strongest potential candidate was former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Strauss-Kahn, who was far ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, has since been charged with a serious sexual assault in New York.

His departure from the political stage was initially good news for Sarkozy and his supporters, but the French president failed to capitalise on the scandal and continues to languish in the polls.

And so the UMP launched its new strategy – to discredit the primaries and undermine resurgent socialist confidence.

The UMP attacks...

The first salvoes came over the weekend. Senior UMP members came out denouncing the fact that requiring voters to declare “sympathy with the left”, and making a record of it, was manifestly open to abuse.

The argument is that even if the records are destroyed (The PS has committed to doing this), the very existence of such lists, even briefly, could be used to identify partisan loyalties and disloyalties, undermining the fairness of a protected democratic process.

Over the weekend, UMP lawmaker Edouard Courtial went as far as to ask the French National Freedom of Information watchdog (CNIL) to invalidate the primaries altogether.

He was followed by UMP party leader Jean-Francois Copé, using heavily nuanced language, who accused the PS of attempting “a massive political list-making operation” (or “fichage”, a term with negative undertones in France, associated particularly with the Nazi occupation).

Judith Waintraub, covering the story for right-leaning daily Le Figaro, told FRANCE 24 that while the UMP was undeniably playing politics “to discredit the primaries”, the argument that there was a potential to abuse the process was valid.

Creating such a list “is a rare and expensive process” for a political party, she said, and once PS officials had their hands on the data, it would be “very hard to get rid of.”

... the PS counter-attacks

On Monday, PS spokesman Benoit Hamon hit back, accusing the UMP of unnecessary scaremongering.

“Nicolas Sarkozy and his friends are trying to make people afraid of coming to vote in the primaries, making them afraid of being placed on such a list,” he told reporters.

“They are injecting an over-excited paranoia into a process that has been given the green light by the Ministry of the Interior. The CNIL had declared the process legal, it has passed on its recommendations, and those recommendations were being followed.”

PS communications boss David Assouline was adamant that the real reason for the UMP assault on the primaries was that the party was nervously clutching at straws in the face of defeat.

“They know that once the process has been successfully completed, it will set in motion a dynamic that will not stop until May 6, 2012,” he said, referring to the date of the second round of next year’s presidential vote.

Date created : 2011-06-21

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