Sarkozy’s UMP party takes step closer to becoming ‘Les Republicains’
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France’s UMP (Union for Popular Movement) party, headed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, took a step closer Tuesday to changing its name to ‘Les Republicains’ following a vote by its leaders.
The proposed name change, which has proved controversial amongst both the UMP’s own supporters and its detractors, will now go before a vote of the party’s rank and file members for final approval.
At a meeting of 51 party executives, all but one voted in favour of the name change, with Le Havre Deputy Mayor Philippe Edouard abstaining.
Edouard is seen as an ally of former prime minister Alain Juppé, who along with François Fillon is considered Sarkozy’s main rival to be the UMP's candidate to stand against President François Hollande in 2017’s general election.
The move to a new name is seen as an attempt by Sarkozy to change the image of the party following a series of scandals – including many involving Sarkozy himself – as well as to turn the page on a bitter leadership battle between Jean-François Copé and Fillon that nearly tore the party apart.
“Changing the name became necessary in view of all the turmoil and scandals that have tarnished the name of the UMP in the past two or three years,” Bernard Accoyer, former president of France’s National Assembly, said shortly before Tuesday’s vote.
While the name-change has received a lukewarm endorsement from Copé and Fillon, a poll of UMP supporters in April revealed the majority are against it.
The Odoxa poll found that 61 per cent of UMP supporters believe the party should not change its name, 56 per cent prefer the UMP to "Les Republicains" and 53 per cent believe that the new name is “too American".
It has also angered many on the left, who claim Sarkozy has no right to appropriate a term that many French people across the political spectrum identify with.
Left-wing daily Libération called the proposed name-change a "semantic hold-up" while Finance Minister and senior Socialist Michel Sapin said it was disingenuous as many French of all political persuasions could call themselves Republicans.
“The name may change but the man himself certainly hasn't,” he told French radio in April.
UMP members will vote on the new name electronically on May 28 and 29, ahead of the party’s May 30 congress in Paris.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)