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Politics

France's UMP announces fresh leadership vote in 2013

France's conservative UMP party will repeat its recent, contested leadership vote in 2013. The two politicians locked in the previous contest, Jean-Francois Cope and François Fillon, announced the ballot together.

France's center-right main opposition UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party will hold another leadership election before October of next year; re-running a November ballot where both candidates claimed victory.

Jean-Francois Cope and Francois Fillon released a joint communique on Monday evening pledging a re-run of an acrimonious contest that has hurt both politicians in French opinion polls.

"A new election on the leadership of the UMP will take place no later than the resumption of the ordinary parliamentary session of October 2013, and will be proceeded by an electoral campaign which will play out during the period between sessions," the first point of a seven-point statement read.

The statement followed a series of meetings between the rival French conservatives, who apparently forged a compromise on the date for another vote. Cope had previously said any leadership re-run would not take place before local elections in March 2014, while Fillon had demanded a ballot before March 2013.

Former Prime Minister Fillon, considered a moderate within the UMP, and the more right-leaning Cope both claimed victory after the November 18 leadership fight, with Cope ultimately named the narrow winner amid complaints of voting irregularities from the Fillon camp. The final, official score could scarcely have been closer: 50.03 percent for Cope, 49.97 percent for Fillon.

Both suffering in dispute

At one point, the leadership dispute looked set to tear the party in two. The UMP, then led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, lost the French presidency to Socialist Francois Hollande in April 2012 elections.

The politicians' statement said that the vote would be organized and overseen by an independent body, with the equal allocation of party funds for the campaigns coming under similar scrutiny.

The communique concluded by saying that Monday's announcements heralded the "renunciation of all appeal processes, within the party or in front of the courts, concerning the November 18 elections." Fillon had previously threatened to contest the outcome.

Fillon's public approval rating had dropped to 33 percent amid the party squabbles, according to a December 9 Opinionway survey, while Cope's public support had dwindled to 17 percent in the same poll.

The leader of the UMP would seem best placed to serve as the main rival to Hollande in France's next presidential elections in 2017. Roughly 300,000 UMP members will be eligible to vote, the last ballot boasted a record turnout.

msh/jr (dapd, dpa, Reuters)