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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Alain Juppé calls on UMP supporters to vote against Front National in Doubs by-election

No, not the most thrilling or exciting of headlines at face value.

But rather telling on a number of levels about the state of the opposition Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

First some background.

Last weekend saw the first round in voting in a by-election in the département of Doubs in eastern France.

It was to contest the seat made available by the forced resignation of the former finance minister, Pierre Moscovici who has since gone on to a cushy number at the higher European Commission level.

A "safe" Socialist party seat in theory.

But, as we all know, the governing Socialist party (PS) isn't exactly "flavour of the month" and the French president, François Hollande...well, although his popularity ratings increased recently after his handling of the Paris attacks in January) the road to a possible second term in 2017 remains a difficult one.

Add to that the disarray that still exists within the UMP and the far-right Front National's (FN) leader, Marine Le Pen's, strategy of combining disaffection with the two major parties with her own populist appeal, and it wasn't suprising that the FN's candidate, Sophie Montel, topped last Sunday's first round of voting in the by-election.

What was unexpected though - certainly for the UMP - was that its candidate, Charles Demouge, only finished third behind Montel and a couple of points adrift of the Socialst party's Frédéric Barbier.

UMP eliminated and Montel to face Barbier in a second round run-off.

And that has put the UMP in something of a quandary - although it shouldn't really.

Its recently-elected leader (a certain Nicolas Sarkozy - you'll surely have heard of him) had promised "unity" in an attempt to resolve party divisions of recent years.

But his slow reaction to the first round vote in Doubs, coupled with some of the party's leading members clearly stating the very opposite of what he is most likely to propose, has once against highlighted the UMP's discord.

The party's number two, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, appeared on BFM TV on Monday morning to give her reaction to the Doubs ballot and how would recommend UMP supporters cast their votes in the second round.

"I would choose to vote for the candidate that opposed the Front National," she said, admitting that it was probably a minority position within the UMP but one she defended nonetheless.

"The Socialist party leaves the country 'desperate'," she said. "But the Front National would disfigure France."

And joining her - even though he had maintained before the first round that he wouldn't comment on the outcome, was Alain Juppé.

Writing on his blog, Juppé clearly called for UMP supporters to cast their vote in the second round to the Socialist party's candidate to "block" the FN.

"Our main political rival now is the FN.," he wrote.

"Whether it can reach power is no longer a hypothetical question and in my opinion this would be a catastrophe for our country.”

Actually his words were much more powerful that that - you can read the full text here.

Alain Juppé (screenshot Europe 1 interview)

Juppé, of course, is a declared candidate in the UMP's primary to determine its 2017 presidential candidate.

A likely opponent and his main one - if you believe political pundits - is expected to be Sarkozy who so far seems to be in favour of the "neither, nor" policy of refusing to endorse any of the two remaining candidates and instead allow (UMP) voters to decide for themselves.

Yes - the courage of convictions and political principles is astounding.

And he's taking plenty of time to come up with a grand design which might well be ignored by those (few) who bother to vote anyway.

Montel might have officially come top in the first round of voting but the big winner was the 60 per cent abstention rate.

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