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Text by Tony Todd , Anne-Diandra LOUARN

Latest update : 2012-11-28

The French centre-right opposition, paralysed by a bitter leadership dispute, has been largely absent from the country’s parliamentary debating chambers, allowing the ruling Socialists to push ahead with contentious legislation almost unchallenged.

France’s ruling Socialists have been free to push controversial legislation through unchallenged in the absence of a functioning opposition, as the centre-right UMP grapples with an existential hangover after a disastrous leadership vote.

Since a disputed primary on November 18, parliamentary business has been going on apace in often half-empty debating chambers, while UMP members attend marathon meetings to try to resolve a crisis that threatens the party’s future and legitimacy.

Following the vote, Jean-François Copé claimed victory, while challenger and former prime minister François Fillon declared Copé’s move an “illegal power grab”. The results showed that Copé beat his opponent by a small margin. Both camps have made allegations of ballot stuffing and voting irregularities.

And while the party tries – apparently in vain – to find a solution, amendments to bills that would otherwise have been stock-in-trade issues for conservative outrage have fallen by the wayside. Since the crisis erupted, just 30 out of a total 150 UMP proposed amendments have been debated.

The Socialists have thus been able to keep contentious elements including – among many others - provisions in the social security budget bill guaranteeing anonymity for minors in obtaining free contraception, and the granting of “paternity” leave to lesbians when their partners (who get maternity leave) give birth.

Humble pie

Laurence Rossignol, Socialist Senator for the Oise administrative region, told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that she had not seen any UMP members there that day, and that the party’s benches had also been empty on Monday.

“Being free of their obstructions, we’ve been able to take advantage and go ahead with legislation in record time,” she said.

“With the crisis their party is going through, they have every reason to want to keep a low profile. It has also made them less arrogant, they are being more humble.”

But despite having the freedom to push through their agenda virtually unchallenged, some Socialists are unsettled by the absence of their political foes in the debating chambers and worry about the consequences of one-sided legislation.

“I’d much rather have the opposition here in the house,” National Assembly Member Thierry Mandon told FRANCE 24. “We need to debate, to fight, to created balanced laws.

“I can perfectly understand their situation. The UMP has very serious problems and they need to resolve them quickly.

“But this power vacuum is not healthy. It is an aberration of political life and the only people who will benefit from this are the far right.”

Date created : 2012-11-28


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