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Hopes low for French Socialists hurt by infighting

8/12/2008 - 11:41

By Estelle Shirbon

PARIS (Reuters) - French voters have little faith that the opposition Socialist Party will overcome months of bitter infighting to find a winning strategy against President Nicolas Sarkozy, an opinion poll showed on Monday.

An interminable leadership contest saw Martine Aubry, author of the 35-hour working week law, snatch a razor-thin victory over failed presidential candidate Segolene Royal, but Aubry's first act as party leader failed to heal the wounds.

She presented a party executive at the weekend that included none of Royal's allies despite the fact that the two women won an almost equal share of party members' votes. Aubry won by a margin of 102 votes out of 134,800 cast.

A Viavoice poll for left-wing newspaper Liberation found that 63 percent of voters expected Aubry and Royal to continue to put personal interests ahead of the good of the party. Only 25 percent thought they would take the party forward together.

The poll will make depressing reading for the Socialists, paralysed by their divisions since Sarkozy soundly beat Royal in May 2007. Almost unopposed, Sarkozy has launched ambitious reforms and cultivated a high profile on the world stage.

In the latest of an endless series of vitriolic exchanges, Aubry and Royal blamed each other for the failure to generate a unified executive. Aubry said Royal had declined to join, while Royal said she and her allies had been offered only crumbs.

"Martine Aubry has just taken responsibility for deeply dividing the party," said Royal's right-hand man Vincent Peillon on LCI television on Monday.

But it appeared that even those sympathetic to the Socialists were losing interest in these details.

"Who, Martine Aubry or Segolene Royal, was responsible for the failure of the reunification? It doesn't matter. The net result is, again, a divided and ineffective Socialist Party," Liberation said in its Monday editorial.

The resentment created by Royal's exclusion from Aubry's team raises the spectre of yet more acrimony when the Socialists choose their candidate for the next presidential poll, in 2012. Royal has already signalled her interest.

Aubry's executive team includes an equal number of women and men, a few members of ethnic minorities and several youth leaders, in line with her promises to rejuvenate the party and make it more representative of modern French society.

However, most of the key posts were given to so-called party "elephants," or influential veterans, from rival Socialist factions who united around Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors and a former labour minister, only to defeat Royal.

(Editing by Charles Dick)


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