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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas