Father and daughter trade insults in the bitter battle for 'Sarkoland'

There are dysfunctional families in the highest places; there are casual back-stabbings in broad daylight, carried out by middle-aged men in suits; there are almost daily allegations of corruption and slander.

The well-heeled département of Hauts-de-Seine, also known as "Sarkoland", has become the most troubled suburb in the Paris area.

As local elections loom on Sunday, President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a series of humiliating, nationwide defeats by the left and the loss of right-wing big-city bastions such as Marseilles, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

However, nowhere in France has there been such a daily flow of embarrassments as in his own fiefdom just to the west of Paris, the small, wealthy, département of Hauts-de-Seine.

In the shadow of La Défense, Europe's biggest high-rise business ghetto, the plot of Shakespeare's King Lear is being re-enacted in the pleasant riverside suburb of Puteaux.

The former mayor, Charles Ceccaldi-Raynaud, 82, is standing against the present mayor, whom he accuses of stupidity, wild spending and "psychotic" behaviour. The mayor is Joëlle Ceccaldi-Raynaud, 58, his daughter.

Mme Ceccaldi-Raynaud accuses the man who she refers to only as "the former mayor" of being senile, mendacious, jealous and misguided. She was for many years the national parliamentary running-mate of Mr Sarkozy. Last year, she replaced the President as the centre-right deputy for the constituency of Neuilly and Puteaux.

Both father and daughter are under investigation for, respectively, "passive corruption" and misuse of municipal funds.

M. Ceccaldi-Reynaud, who gave way in 2004 after serious illness, says: "The crucial thing is that Puteaux should be liberated from Mme Ceccaldi-Reynaud ... The fall of my daughter is an absolute necessity."

Neuilly-sur-Seine, the even wealthier town just across the river Seine, is the scene of an equally unseemly civil war within President Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). The feud has even caused something of a rift within his own family. M. Sarkozy was mayor of Neuilly for 19 years. He tried to parachute his press officer, David Martinon, into "his" town as the mayoral candidate for his party in this weekend's election. The local people, and the local party, revolted, led by, amongst others, M. Sarkozy's son, Jean, 22.

M. Martinon withdrew, but the row continues. The President's party decreed at national level that it would instead support an independent centre-right candidate, Jean-Christophe Fromantin. The assistant mayor, Arnaud Teullé, a long-time acolyte of M. Sarkozy – refused to accept this decision. He is running his own independent campaign, with the backing of most local UMP activists, against the "official" candidate. He has been suspended from the party.

In the last couple of days, the mayoral front-runner, M. Fromantin, has accused persons unknown of spreading a forged document around Neuilly which purports to show that he is under investigation for business irregularities. His campaign has stopped just short of accusing M. Teullé's campaign.

"We all know who stands to benefit from such slanderous attacks which befit the politics of another age," his campaign said.

The mayor of nearby Levallois-Perret, Patrick Balkany of – a senior figure in the UMP – has endorsed M. Teullé. M. Balkany is one of President Sarkozy's oldest and closest friends.

All of this may seem unfortunate for M. Sarkozy at a time when his popularity has already slumped, but according to a book published last month, this is the normal business of politics in Hauts-de-Seine.

The book, 9-2 le Clan du Président, by Helene Constanty and Pierre Yves Lautrou, describes violent political and family feuds, corruption and clientelism over the last 30 years. The putsch and counter-putsch resembles a campaign in 1983, when a 28-year-old junior politician seized the town hall after a series of bold double-crosses. His name was Nicolas Sarkozy.

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