While the French government flounders, its opposition flames

Last week, I mentioned the bitter fight to determine who will succeed Nicolas Sarkozy as leader of the UMP, France’s conservative party. At the time Jean-Francois Cope, the more conservative candidate, appeared to have defeated former Prime Minister (under Sarkozy) Francois Fillon by fewer than 1,000 votes, but Fillon had not recogized the result.

A week later, Cope is officially the winner, but Fillon still doesn’t accept the result. And perhaps with good reason. According to the Washington Post, votes from three overseas territories were not taken into account, and these votes would have put Fillon ahead.

So why is Cope the winner? Beats me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he runs the party. Or maybe, the Washington Post notwithstanding, he did win fair and square.

In any event, the UMP now is hopelessly divided. Fillon is said to be deciding whether to challenge the election result in court of to form a new party.

Party leaders have asked Sarkozy to intervene and restore unity. Sarko had said he intends to stay out of French politics. However, he agreed to meet with Cope (a disciple) and Fillon. Whether he can prevent what some are calling the “live suicide” of his party remains to be seen.

Fortunately for the UMP, it won’t face French voters until 2014, and there is no presidential election until 2017. Moreover, for all of the UMP’s difficulties, it is the Socialist government of Francois Hollande that must preside over the French economy. Hollande’s party is more or less united, I think. But that unity is based on a common unwillingness meaningfully to confront the parlous economic realities facing France.

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