France: Conservative election too close to call


France's main centre-right opposition UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope (C) flanked by former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (R) speaks to the press on Nov. 18, 2012 in Paris. The vote is still too close to call.


Francois Guillot

It's unclear who former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's successor will be. On Sunday, France voted to elect the next leader of its right-wing party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), but the contest is too close to call.

Former Budget Minister Jean-Francois Copé announced himself the winner, while former Prime Minister Francois Fillon later declared himself the victor. Both claimed election fraud on the opponent's side.

But while no one can agree on who the electoral winner is, many believe former right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy to be the true victor, even though he wasn't running.

"It's a catastrophe. The Socialists must be pleased with this," said a member of Fillon's campaign to Reuters. "Nicolas Sarkozy must be happy too. He must be saying to himself that things are not going well without him."

Reuters then quoted an editorial in the daily, Les Echos:

"Even without knowing who the winner is, we can state that the true victor of this vote is called Nicolas Sarkozy."

The BBC reported that over 50 percent of the UMP's 300,000 members voted, while the Wall Street Journal, citing unknown party officials, said an estimated 60 percent of the UMP voted.

The right lost the presidency when the Socialists' Francois Hollande defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. The winner of this week's election will lead the opposition and have a good chance at winning the UMP's nomination for the presidency.

Fillon has said he would lead the conservative party down a more centrist line. Copé said he would lead the party further right.

Perhaps the best analysis of this electoral debacle came from the BBC's Paris correspondent, Hugh Schofield:

"Watching the results come in was like seeing a really crummy disaster movie. The events were terrible, but it was so bad you just wanted to laugh."

The result, hopefully the final one, is to be announced late Monday.