Split vote tumbles French conservatives into dispute

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party was in disarray today after a vote for its next leader produced a razor-thin result – and both candidates claimed victory.

Former prime minister Francois Fillon and former budget minister Jean-Francois Cope were grappling for control of the Union for a Popular Movement party in yesterday’s ballot.

The dispute over the winner has extended into today.

The winner will head opposition to President Francois Hollande’s Socialist leadership.

In the spring, after a decade in power, the UMP lost both the presidency and control of the National Assembly to Socialists.

Mr Sarkozy remains a behind-the-scenes presence.

Mr Fillon is seen mostly as an even-tempered moderate, while former UMP leader Mr Cope has reached out to the far right and led the legislative effort that banned face-covering Muslim veils.

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