The Straits Times
Published on Nov 17, 2012

Bruised French conservatives to pick new leader


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.