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Nicolas Sarkozy returned from self- imposed political isolation to try to prevent his political party from falling apart in his absence.
Sarkozy lunched today with his former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and talked by phone with his ex-parliamentary whip Jean-Francois Cope. Both men claim they won last week’s election to head their party, the Union for a Popular Movement. His former foreign minister, Alain Juppe, gave up a mediation effort over the weekend.
The UMP will stay together for the time being, if only because the cost of setting up a new party is prohibitive, said Laurent Dubois, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.
“The French political system can have two main political parties, not three, and they know that,” said Dubois. “So the UMP will continue to exist, though it’ll be diminished, with one pope in Avignon and one in Rome,” he said, referring to the 14th century papal schism.
The UMP’s internal election commission said Cope won the party election by 952 votes, Agence France-Presse reported. Previously the commission said Cope won by 98 votes out of about 150,000 cast. Fillon says ballots from some overseas territories weren’t counted and as a result he won by 26. Fillon has refused to cooperate with the commission, saying it’s stuffed with Cope allies whom he has referred to as a “mafia.”
Juppe said in a Nov. 25 interview with Europe 1 radio that the only winners from the UMP’s imbroglio are Socialist President Francois Hollande, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and the centrist UDI party.
After losing to Hollande in May’s presidential elections, Sarkozy said he was quitting French politics. He didn’t endorse a candidate in the UMP election. The next presidential vote is in 2017.
The 577 members of the National Assembly elected in June’s elections have until the end of this week, Nov. 30, to announce which political group they belong to. In June, the UMP won 194 seats, compared to 329 for the Socialists and their allies. The UDI holds 29 seats and Marine Le Pen’s National Front won two.
The UMP was formed in 2002 as a merger of parties backing President Jacques Chirac. It was initially called Union for a Presidential Majority. France’s Socialist Party dates to 1905, though it took its current name in 1969. Marine’s father Jean- Marie Le Pen created the National Front in 1972.
Cope focused his campaign on crime and illegal immigration, issues dear to National Front voters. An alliance with Le Pen, who took 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, is unlikely because of personal animosity between the two.
Fillon is unlikely to ally with the UDI because that party is already crowded with presidential aspirants.
Going alone isn’t an option either, Dubois said. “Fillon understands the bigger point that two big parties on the right would mean the right would never return to the Elysee,” he said, referring to the presidential palace. “It would divide the right and empower Marine Le Pen.”
Le Pen has appeared on several television programs in recent days to declare that the UMP is “dead” and whoever emerges as leader has no legitimacy to lead the opposition to Hollande.
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