France’s so-called “war of the roses” is underway with the fight for the post of Socialist Party leader entering its final phase.
In a few days’ time, party members will elect their new secretary-general.
Former presidential candidate Segolene Royal made a comeback last week as she scored victory in a nationwide ballot on the contenders’ manifestos.
It was seen as a key vote in determining who will be able to unite the deeply divided party and build a challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The victory puts her in prime position to take over from former partner and outgoing party leader Francois Hollande.
The father of her four children, Hollande has been party secretary for the past eleven years.
He leaves behind a mixed legacy of local election victories and general election defeats.
It won’t be an easy ride for his successor according to experts.
“As the main opposition party, the Socialists will one day be back in power. But they are now entering a stormy and difficult phase,” says political analyst gerard Grunbert, who adds that he believes the party congress that opens on Saturday will “only serve to illustrate this deep rift.”
Among Royal’s rivals for the leadership post is Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë. France’s only openly gay politician, he is considered one of the country’s most popular political figures.
But Delanoë trailed behind Royal in last week’s ballot, picking up only around 25 percent of the vote, a similar score to another socialist party veteran, Martine Aubry.
Although Aubry enjoys a solid reputation as mayor of the northern town of Lille, the former labour minister is today paying the political price for championing France’s controversial 35-hour working week.
Campaigning on promises of “renewal”, Aubry has united various party factions behind her left-leaning project, including Benoit Hamon, who represents the party’s far left, and who scored nearly 20% of last week’s votes.
Analysts regard an alliance between Aubry, Hamon and Delanoë as unlikely, after the Paris mayor made the mistake of describing himself as a “free-market advocate.”
Many believe Royal’s best chance of success would be to offer the post of secretary-general to the young Hamon – thereby living up to her word to hand over the torch of France’s ailing Socialist Party to a new generation.