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Sarkozy's scattered forces close ranks in Marseille

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-09-03

French conservatives have gathered in Marseille for their annual “Summer School” conference, hoping to paper over the cracks in the party and rally support around President Nicolas Sarkozy's re-election bid.

Gathered in the southern city of Marseille from September 2 to 4, UMP party leaders, lawmakers and rank-and-file members are calling on supporters to rally around French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he campaigns for a second term.

The traditional “Summer School” gathering offers party members a chance to show a united front and mold political consensus. This year, it will be key in jump-starting the UMP's drive to stay in power for another term. The two-round presidential election is scheduled for April 22 and May 6 of next year.

Party leaders, including UMP chief Jean-François Copé and Prime Minister François Fillon, are expected to drum up support for Sarkozy in keynote speeches over the weekend. Copé will also unveil the results of a vast survey of former and current party members, who were asked what issues were most important to them ahead of the race.

But despite the upbeat talk, party members will be well aware that their champion faces an uphill battle in next year's presidential poll. Sarkozy's government has been plagued by scandals and his approval ratings have tanked.

Divisions within the party have flared up, with at least one prominent member, former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, quitting the UMP camp last April. Borloo, a centrist, has threatened to run against Sarkozy in the forthcoming poll.

Even at the conference, carefully groomed for the media, the ruling party struggled to present a unified front. On Friday Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former prime minister and UMP heavyweight, criticized Sarkozy's move to raise taxes on amusement parks, calling it an attack on the poor.

On Saturday, he sought to make amends. “We need to unite as a party,” he told a crowd at a plenary session. “We need to unite because we have the best candidate”.

He and his colleagues may find it easier to achieve the much desired unity when they indulge in another favourite pastime of these summer gatherings: railing against the opposition Socialist Party, who have also struggled to overcome their own divisions.


Date created : 2011-09-03


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