Sarkozy Urged to Intervene in Party’s Leadership Dispute

The former president is seen as the only man who can unite the warring factions in his party.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Orléans, February 3, 2011
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Orléans, February 3, 2011 (Elysée)

France’s conservative party is seen as on the verge of collapse as the two candidates who stood for its leadership in a primary election last week refuse to concede defeat. After former party leader Alain Juppé failed to reconcile the two camps on Sunday, pressure mounted on Nicolas Sarkozy to step in and diffuse the standoff.

Sarkozy, who lost reelection in May’s presidential election, had lunch with François Fillon on Monday in which he “neither encouraged nor discouraged” the man who served as his prime minister for five years, a source close to Fillon told Le Figaro.

Although the former budget minister Jean-François Copé was declared the winner last week by a margin of less than one hundred votes, Fillon insists that the primary election results from France’s overseas territories shifted the outcome in his favor. An appeals committee disputed his claim on Monday, invalidating the results from New Caledonia in the Pacific and two voting stations in Alpes-Maritimes in the southeast of France to put Copé ahead by 952 votes.

Copé, a hardliner and protégé of the former president’s, has promised to stand aside if Sarkozy decided to run again in 2017. Fillon has made no such promise and may be a more viable general election candidate as he can appeal to the center whereas Copé would likely draw votes from the far right.

It is the far-right Front national that has been quick to vaunt itself as the true opposition party to President François Hollande’s Socialist administration while the Union pour un mouvement populaire is embroiled in a bitter internal contest that is not just about personalities but the future of the party.

Writing gleefully in Libération, a left-wing newspaper, François Sergent compares the backstabbing and infighting on the right to an episode of the The Borgias and predicts the demise of the party altogether. “It is the end for the UMP which grew to become democratic on a Sunday without modifying its Bonapartist operation and without choosing between its militant tendency and what used to be called the Republican right.”

In an editorial for Le Figaro, a newspaper that traditionally supports the right, Yves Thréard on Monday urged the two candidates to end the “massacre” and call new elections. “Stop this bad version of the battle for the House of Atreus,” he urged, referring to the mythological ruling family of Mycenae, “or they will both comes out the losers. If that isn’t already the case!”

Copé rejected the possibility of a new vote later in the day. “The election has taken place,” he told BFMTV.