France’s divided opposition confirms Copé as leader

Jean-François Copé (photo) was once again confirmed victor in the disputed UMP leadership battle by the party's Electoral Appeals Commission Monday, beating rival François Fillon by 952 votes. Fillon promptly refused to accept the decision, again.


Jean-François Copé was confirmed the official winner of the French opposition party’s disputed leadership election on Monday. Defeated rival Francois Fillon immediately dismissed the declaration as "illegal".

After an adjusted ballot count the UMP's internal Electoral Appeals Commission announced that Copé, 48, had won the battle to become president of the UMP by 952 votes over his fierce rival Francois Fillon, 58. Around 173,000 votes were cast in total.

The official confirmation of Copé as winner came eight days after the election, which descended into farce when both men claimed victory and traded bitter allegations of voter fraud.

Copé had been declared the winner last Monday with a razor-thin victory of 98 votes, but former prime minister Fillon contested the vote and said he would have won by 26 votes had overseas territories not been omitted by mistake.

Copé seeks unity

Speaking shortly after the commission confirmed him as the victor, Copé called for party unity and for the result to be respected.

"The committee has confirmed my election. It has even recorded a bigger margin in my favour. The result is there. Everybody must now respect it," Cope said of the new score, which discounted contested areas and added votes from overseas.

The dispute over the ballot set off a week of infighting and revealed a deep rift between Fillon’s centre-right faction and Cope’s more hard-right bloc.

Fillon, who has questioned the impartiality of the appeals commission, ignored Copé’s call for "forgiveness", labelling the commission's confirmation on Monday as an illegal “power grab”.

According to his spokesman Jerome Chartier, Fillon, who had been favourite to win the election, expects a new leadership ballot to be held. His inner circle are set to meet on Tuesday to decide their next move.

The leadership crisis has dented the image the UMP, which is still reeling from its loss of the presidency and parliament this year.

Political 'suicide'

Described by conservative daily Le Figaro as a "live suicide", the dispute is tearing apart the party founded by former president Jacques Chirac and providing welcome relief for President Francois Hollande as he grapples with a flatlining economy.

So deep is the divide that former president and talisman of the French right Nicolas Sarkozy waded in on Monday, reportedly having talks with both men.

A UMP source told AFP on Monday that the former president favoured holding a fresh vote as the only way to solve the crisis.

"It seems clear that (Sarkozy) is the only person today with enough authority to propose a solution where I cannot see one," the UMP's Alain Juppé told RTL radio earlier on Monday. "It's in his hands."

Two-thirds of UMP supporters want Sarkozy to run in the 2017 election despite his vow to quit politics after his May defeat. Analysts see the feud increasing his chances of a comeback.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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