|Photo credit Lionel Bonaventure for AFP|
France is fond of proclaiming 'the French exception' when it comes to protecting its interests, and that maxim certainly applies here because the current and still-undecided battle for the leadership of the UMP is, well, as exceptional as it gets. This ongoing farce of an election saw both Copé and Fillon declare themselves as having won late last night as vote-counting began to draw to a close after yesterday's vote by party members.
Once rumours began to circulate of possible vote-rigging however, they instantly changed their tune and began to accuse each other of fraud and ballot-stuffing. A depressed and weary France finally went to bed at about 3am with the announcement that no winner would be declared until today and that the vote had been so close that enquiries would have to be made into the allegations.
As I write this it is becoming clear that the results will not be known before late this evening at the earliest. Accusations of cheating have to be investigated, recounts will be needed in many places and confusion reigns. But the result, whatever it is, will prove to be totally irrelevant.
The press, the public and members of all political parties including the UMP are sickened by this spectacle. The Nouvelobs did a tour of the regional papers and found epithets such as 'grotesque', 'pitiful', 'surreal' 'theatrical', 'fratricidal' and the heavily ironic 'politics in all its splendour' to describe this amateurish imbroglio. The French word 'politique', which already has a highly negative image here, will surely be classified as a filthy swear word when this is all (thankfully) over.
However, the world being as it is there's always one idiot who puts his foot in it and cuts dinner conversation dead by asking his host how his gran is only to be sharply reminded that, as he had been informed last week, poor old granny fell under a bus the week before and is thus now in a non-ongoing existing situation.
The self-designated nitwit this time was hapless and one-time-short-lived-stopgap-expendable Prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin who came out with the totally inept and inaccurate assertion that all closely-fought elections lead to problems before going on to quote the Bush-Gore election as being an example. He had obviously forgotten (wasn't aware?) that whereas Bush-Gore was an election pitting two political parties against each other, the UMP débacle has been manufactured in-house. Also, you can bet your beret that, unlike for Bush and Gore, neither Fillon nor Copé will graciously accept defeat.
And therein may lie their future downfall. These primaries - the UMP's first - remind everyone here of the unseemly bitchfest between rival candidates Ségolène Royal and Martine Aubry after voting ended at the Socialist primaries in 2008. They accused each other of cheating and fraud and Royal and her lieutenant Manual Valls even announced that they would open legal proceedings to challenge the legality of the procedure. They finally stopped short of doing so however and the result was that although Aubry was eventually declared the winner, neither she nor Royal was designated as presidential candidate or candidate for party leader this year, and both have since slipped off the radar.
Both Copé and Fillon have lost pocketfuls of Brownie points since yesterday and whoever wins this fight will be faced off against the other in an ugly and party-splitting battle which will render the UMP even less efficient as an opposition party then they are already. As a result it is by no means certain that either will be endorsed as the 2017 UMP presidential candidate, and to understand why let's go back to the minefield analogy.
Their suicidal antics have been contemplated with hand-rubbing glee by their enemies, who have been standing on the sidelines and are taking great delight in watching them do a passable imitation of clumsy suicide bombers who blow themselves up without killing their intended victims. Their enemies shall thus live on to fight another day from an ever stronger position. Who are they?
The most obvious beneficiaries are François Hollande and his government. Their reaction has been wisely discreet up until now, given that the result is still uncertain, but they know that from now on they will be faced with a divided and weakened opposition which will have no more lessons to give in the future about the executive's right hand not knowing what its left hand is doing. The Front National on the other hand has lost no time in ridiculising this excuse for a democratic internal election and have every reason to be optimistic about picking up disgruntled right-of-centre UMP votes in future elections.
But the prize for the biggest cheshire-cat grin on the block goes to Nicolas Sarkozy, the man for whom the UMP was created. He hasn't said a single word about this disaster yet, but it can be safely assumed that his shadenfreude knows no bounds and that there there is sure to be a major uptick in the number of impassioned appeals by UMP politicians and rank-and-file party members for him to return as the Messiah who shall save the UMP from being banished to the political wilderness.
All of this however supposes that the UMP will survive this crisis. But both Fillon and Copé are already being exhorted to form their own parties if they lose, and that would weaken each of them even further in terms of electoral appeal.
The Socialists, the Front National and Nicolas Sarkozy haven't had to fire a single shot yet they have still won a major victory. All three are delighted with the disastrous picture these primaries have painted of the UMP as a credible opposition party and their victory is already total after watching Fillon and Copé condemn themselves to a hellish future, whoever is declared to have won this lamentable and irrelevant primary 'election.'