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Major French Opposition Wins Special Legislative Elections

After a fratricidal party leadership vote the French UMP seemed to rebound in three special legislative elections.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/11/2012, 11:10 PM

Francois Fillon
Francois Fillon
Reuters

The French center-right Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) lost the presidency and the National Assembly last spring, but took a commanding lead after the first round in three special legislative elections for seats in the French National Assembly. The UMP had at least temporarily been given up for dead after a bruising leadership contest resulted in a schism.

The results of the special elections gave rise to varying interpretations, not necessarily mutually exclusive. From the perspective of the center-right, this hat trick could be viewed as a rebuke to the Socialist government, whose popularity has sharply declined since it took office.

It also showed that the party could work around the feuding chieftains Jean-Francois Copé and Francois Fillon, and come together to elect a candidate.

Other analysts were skeptical over whether the special elections signaled a reversal of the party's fortunes. They pointed to the fact that all three constituencies were areas that traditionally voted for the center-right. The voting turnout was much lower than in general elections and the National Front, that had bedeviled the UMP by creating a triangular- three candidate second round, failed to qualify for the second round as a result of this factor.

If the split at the top did not doom the chances of the local UMP candidates, the corollary was that the local contests were effectively decoupled from national politics and did not improve the party's prospects, unless a solution could be found to the leadership vacuum.