Fraud allegations cloud French opposition poll
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Both candidates fighting to become the head of France’s main conservative opposition party, the UMP, claimed Monday they had won the party’s primary vote, amid accusations on both sides of voter fraud.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right opposition UMP party remained leaderless on Monday after party members voted for their next leader in a poll that was marred by allegations of voter fraud.
Both former prime minister François Fillon and his opponent Jean-François Copé claimed victory, after a campaign that has split the UMP and caused widespread derision.
Both camps claimed “irregularities” in some voting offices -- where there were more votes were counted than registered voters -- and said they would contest the result.
Fillon, who was predicted to win, was furious on Monday morning. His supporters claimed he had won by 244 votes after some 150,000 UMP members had cast their ballot. Copé, in turn, claimed he had won by more than 1,000 votes, all before any official announcement.
Speaking to reporters in the early hours of Monday morning, Fillon said: “France is watching us. We do not have the right to announce the result before those in charge of the vote.”
Copé, meanwhile, was confident of victory: “The UMP’s membership has accorded me a majority of their votes and therefore has elected me as the president of the party.”
The vote comes six months after former UMP leader and president Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by Socialist François Hollande.
Despite the ignominy of party squabbling, the winner will be well-placed to exploit the free-fall in support for Hollande since he took office. But he will also have the difficult task of re-uniting a party split in an election battle that has drawn widespread derision and delighted the party’s opponents, especially the far-right National Front (FN) which is determined to overtake the UMP as the main voice of France's conservative opposition.
“It is obvious that whoever is elected president of the UMP will have no legitimacy whatsoever given that he will be in charge of a party broken in two,” said FN deputy-leader Florian Philipott.
Both Fillon, 58, and Copé, ten years his junior, are seen as advocates of free market policies and economic reform.
But they differ on social issues -- Copé shares Sarkozy's approach on tighter immigration policies and a strong-armed, populist agenda on Muslim integration. Last month he published “A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right”, in which he lambasted a culture of “anti-white racism” within immigrant communities in impoverished urban areas.
Fillon, meanwhile, portrays himself as an experienced statesman who has avoided the lure of populism and managed to stay clear of the scandals that rocked Sarkozy’s five years in office.