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Bruised French conservatives to pick new leader

Published on Nov 17, 2012 4:02 PM
A combination made on Sept 18, 2012 shows two file pictures, one of former French Prime minister Francois Fillon (left) taken on Jan 12, 2012 in Paris and the other taken on March 13, 2012 in Paris showing UMP general secretary Jean-Francois Cope. Mr Fillon and Mr Cope are both candidates for the UMP right-wing party presidency and the election will be held on Nov 18, 2012. -- AFP PHOTO

PARIS (REUTERS) - France's conservatives will elect a new leader on Sunday who will determine whether the party ousted in May from a 17-year presidential reign will hold to the centre or move to the right in a quest to regain power in 2017.

Moderate ex-prime minister Francois Fillon, who regularly tops political popularity polls, is tipped to narrowly beat Mr Jean-Francois Cope, a disciple of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and his hard stance on issues including immigration.

Yet, with two thirds of UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) members wanting Mr Sarkozy to return for the 2017 election, the result will be close, and a Fillon victory would not completely bury an existential crisis in the opposition party.

Socialist President Francois Hollande has a clear majority in Parliament and controls most French regions, but a slump in his ratings is giving the right an audience.

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