French right in disarray after hardliner wins leadership

Claims of ballot rigging mar Jean-François Copé's victory as race to succeed Sarkozy ends in acrimony

Paris

The hardliner Jean-François Copé was declared the new leader of the French centre-right by a handful of votes late last night after a second surreal day of civil war within France's largest political party.

After a day of claims and counter-claims, counts and re-counts, insults and accusations, Mr Copé, 48, finally emerged as successor to Nicolas Sarkozy as president of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP).

But Sunday's chaotic internal party election, marred by mutual accusations of vote-rigging and dirty tricks, threatens to destroy France's main opposition party. The defeated candidate, François Fillon, who lost by 98 votes out of 176, 608, spoke last night of a "political and moral fracture" within the UMP and hinted that he might pursue his political career elsewhere.

The moderate former Prime Minister, 58, who had been favourite to succeed Mr Sarkozy as UMP president, said that he "acknowleged" the result but that the "methods deployed" could "not win any approval."

"The fracture in our camp is manifest," Mr Fillon said. "It is both political and moral… I will let it be known in the days to come how I will continue my political engagement." The fact that Mr Fillon referred to the centre-right "camp" rather than the UMP led commentators to speculate that he might intended to build for a 2017 presidential run outside the party.

Earlier a cock-a-hoop Mr Copé, who had fought an aggressive, hard-right campaign attacking Mr Fillon as "soft" and "detached", said that his "arms were wide open" to work in future with the former Prime Minister.

Another former Prime Minister, the party's founder and elder statesman, Alan Juppé had warned earlier that the UMP could fall apart unless the internal wounds were healed rapidly.

"I am sounding a cry of alarm," Mr Juppé said. "The very existence of the UMP is at stake today. It is time to end this confrontation."

Any chance of a return for Mr Sarkozy is likely to be ended when he appears before a magistrate in Bordeaux on Thursday and expected to be placed under formal investigation – a step short of a criminal charge – for alleged illegal campaign financing in 2007.

Mr Fillon, 58, who was Mr Sarkozy's prime minister for five years, had been expected to win Sunday's contest easily. But that forecast was based on polls of UMP voters, not of UMP party members, and many of the party faithful appear to have responded enthusiastically to Mr Copé's hard-right campaign.

Mr Copé, of jewish origin but non-practising, said that he wants a French Right "without complexes". In practice this means refusing alliances with the National Front but stealing some of their nationalist, authoritarian and anti-immigrant themes.

Endless in-fighting once earned French politicians of the right and centre the title of the "stupidest Right in the world." The intensity of the divisions, revealed by Sunday's muddled and disputed vote, suggests that civil war is about to break out again.

The new battle, though also rooted in personal loathings, is partly a struggle for the soul of the centre-right.

l France's finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, blamed the poor economic management of previous governments after Moody's ratings agency downgraded the country's sovereign rating by one notch to Aa1 from Aaa.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before