France: Anti-Muslim Elements Emerge Victorious in French Opposition Elections
PARIS – A right-winger famed for his aggressive rhetoric against Muslims has been elected a new leader of France’s former ruling party after an election that saw traded accusations of fraud.
“The activists of the UMP have accorded me a majority of their votes and therefore have elected me as the president of the party,” said Jean-Francois Cope, the new leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Cope was elected to lead the opposition party after defeating former prime minister Francois Fillon by a handful of votes, taking 50.03 percent of the vote.
The razor-thin victory gave the 48-year-old firebrand leadership over Fillon by only 98 votes from the 300,000 UMP members to succeed former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Cope’s election came as a bad news for the Muslim community in France, home to six million Muslims.
He had played a leading role in the UMP campaign to ban the full-face Muslim veil in France.
Cope also championed a controversial national debate in 2009 that preceded the veil ban, which was seen by French Muslims as aiming to stigmatize them and let people air biased views about Islam.
Though he was sidelined to some degree when Sarkozy took office in 2007, Cope used his position as the head of the UMP’s parliamentary delegation to raise his profile.
In 2010, he became secretary general of the UMP and continued to gain attention as one of the party’s most fierce advocates and debaters.
Cope has been credited with swinging the party to the right in a bid to take votes from the far-right Front National and raised hackles during the leadership campaign with complaints of “anti-white racism” in French suburbs.
He followed up last month with the publication of “A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right”, in which he lambasted a culture of discrimination against whites amongst immigrant communities in impoverished urban areas.
Cope famously told one campaign rally that a group of Muslim “thugs” snatches a pain au chocolat pastry from the hands of a young boy.
The UMP election, six months after Sarkozy lost the presidency to Socialist Francois Hollande, is seen as evidence of a deep rift in the party.
“The movement has emerged divided and thus weakened by this excessive confrontation,” when the next presidential election will be held, UMP party heavyweight Alain Juppe wrote on his blog.
With both parties citing “many irregularities” in the electoral process, he pleaded with the pair to put a stop to their supporters’ “invectives” and warned that “the very existence of the UMP is in question”.
“Throughout the campaign, it has been less a question of the future of the UMP and more about the two candidates’ obsession with 2017,” Juppe, Sarkozy’s foreign minister, added.
The debacle delighted the party socialist and far-right rivals.
“This tragicomedy is a bad vaudeville act that does no honor to French democracy,” said Bruno Le Roux, the head of the Socialists’ parliamentary faction.
Florian Philippot, deputy leader of the far-right National Front, also pointed to the difficult task in uniting the party after a bitter election battle.
“It is obvious that whoever is elected president of the UMP will have no legitimacy whatsoever given that he will be in charge of a party broken in two.”
Original post: Anti-Islam Rightist Leads French Opposition