Former French Premier Splits Conservatives in Parliament

François Fillon and his supporters break away after a contentious leadership election.

Former French prime minister François Fillon announced the formation of a breakaway conservative faction in parliament on Tuesday, a day after former budget minister Jean-François Copé was again declared the winner in the party’s leadership contest.

Copé was originally named the winner by a margin of less than one hundred votes. Fillon insisted that “forgotten” primary election results from France’s overseas territories had shifted the outcome in his favor but 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.

Fillon, who served as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s premier for five years and is considered more centrist, said “the only worthwhile solution is a revote” in three months’ time under the control of an independent commission. “Either we save the UMP together democratically or we are not hard and I will draw the political conclusions.”

BFMTV reports that 120 out of 225 conservative members of the National Assembly could join Fillon’s group. The leader of the Union pour un mouvement populaire in parliament, Christian Jacob, who supports Copé, warned that the split could be “irreparable.” He added, “It does not make sense to have one party and two parliamentary groups.” Copé’s allies and the conservative newspaper Le Figaro have liked Fillon’s move to “suicide” for the political right in France.

The quest to find a successor for Sarkozy, who lost reelection in May of this year, has exposed a deep rift in the party between moderates who support Fillon and the right-wing which has backed the hardliner Copé to try to siphon off votes from Marine Le Pen’s populist Front national. While the conservatives are embroiled in a bitter internal leadership contest, it is the far right that has been quick to vaunt itself as the true opposition to President François Hollande’s Socialist administration.