Political party of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy go to war over who should succeed him

Union pour un Mouvement Populaire is accelerating towards self-destruction

Paris

France’s largest political party is accelerating towards self-destruction.

Despite an attempt to intervene by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the rivals to succeed him as leader of the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) pursued their destructive fraternal quarrel into the courts.

The former Prime Minister, François Fillon, sent a bailiff to party headquarters in an unsuccesful attempt to seize the voting records in an internal election in which he alleges “fraud on an industrial scale”.

His rival, Jean-Francois Copé, the party’s secretary general, was nonetheless confirmed last night as UMP president by an appeals committee under his control.

Mr Fillon denounced this decision as a “masquerade” and an illegal “coup”. Up to 100 of his supporters in the National Assembly will meet tomorrow morning to consider whether to form a break-away group before a parliamentary deadline on Friday. Such a decision would almost certainly mean the implosion of the party.

Earlier, the party treasurer, Dominique Dord, had resigned and alleged systematic misuse of UMP finances by Mr Copé during his campaign to become party president and France’s de facto “leader of the opposition”.

A judge has granted an emergency injunction to Mr Fillon to seize voting records and protect them from possible “interference”. Mr Copé refused to hand over the records yesterday and took legal action of his own to try to overthrow this ruling.

The election ended nine days ago, amid mutual accusations of ballot-box stuffing and other dirty tricks. Mr Cope , who fought a hard right campaign was declared the winner by 98 out of 170,000 votes.

Two days later, it emerged that 1,300 votes cast by UMP members in three overseas departments of France in the Pacific and Indian oceans had been “forgotten”. If they were added to the final count, Mr Fillon would have won by 26 votes.

Mr Copé refused to stand down. A party appeals committee under his control decided last night to invalidate as “irregular” all the “lost” votes from New Caledonia in the Pacific and all the votes cast in Nice in the south of France. This meant, the committee declared, that Mr Cope had won by 952 votes.

One centrist politician said that Mr Cope was “acting like the Emperor Bokassa”, the autocratic leader of the Central African Republic in the 1970s and 1980s. Fillon supporters said that they would shortly produce proof that the Cope campaign had issued 30,000 fake proxy voting papers.

Ex- President Sarkozy briefly emerged from his retirement today to have lunch with his former Prime Minister, Mr Fillon. The encounter appears to have achieved little.

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