France's UMP rivals agree on new leadership vote
UMP rivals François Fillon and Jean-François Copé (pictured) officially agreed Monday on the date for a fresh leadership vote next September, in a bid to heal the bruising divide within France’s right-wing opposition party.
The UMP, France’s divided and badly bruised right-wing opposition party, inched towards healing the rift within its ranks Sunday when two rival leaders agreed on a new leadership vote next September.
More than seven months after former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election defeat, his party has been driven to the brink of collapse over a bitter leadership dispute between Jean-Francois Copé and former French Prime Minister François Fillon.
Copé, who won last month’s hotly contested leadership election, sealed an agreement Monday with Fillon to hold a new party presidency election in September 2013.
The dispute over the date of a new vote was the latest twist in an ugly battle between the tough-talking Copé, 48, and Fillon, 58, a traditional conservative who managed to remain popular as prime minister even as his boss's popularity sank in the polls.
While Fillon had set a March 2013 deadline for a new vote, his conservative rival had refused a re-election before March 2014.
The new September 2013 date was a compromise struck between the candidates in a bid to project a united front before the next parliamentary session opens January 15.
Shortly after he lost the leadership bid last month, Fillon created his own parliament group, dubbed the Rally for the UMP (R-UMP), depriving the UMP of 68 of its 194 deputies.
Fillon, Copé welcome agreement
Responding to the agreement Monday, Copé said he was “happy” to have reached an agreement that could put an end to the “nightmare” within the party.
"We met, agreed and shook hands and I think it was the most beautiful thing after three nightmarish weeks,” said Copé in an interview with a French TV and radio station.
In a written statement issued late Sunday, Fillon also welcomed the agreement and noted that once the two sides had settled other issues, Fillon’s R-UMP would begin the process of dissolving itself “as that has always been the understanding”.
Late Sunday the two protagonists welcomed the UMP's "grand slam" in three by-elections, winning one seat from the Socialists and holding two, with Copé seeing a "good omen for escaping from the crisis" in the party.
The political heir to the movement founded by Charles De Gaulle after World War II, the UMP has been in decline since Sarkozy’s defeat and is keen to project a united front against France’s Socialist President François Hollande.
Sarkozy has no official post in the UMP after his May defeat but he is understood to be anxious to keep the UMP together in case he decides to make a comeback bid for the presidency in 2017.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)