Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Saturday, 22 November 2008

Press review: French Socialist vote

By Lucy Gill
BBC Monitoring

Martine Aubry has been elected the new leader of France's opposition Socialist Party in a ballot of party members that brought to an end an exceptionally bitter and divisive leadership contest.

Martine Aubry and Segolene Royal
The two women differed in style and substance during campaigning

She defeated her rival, Segolene Royal, by only a handful votes, making many commentators in the French press doubtful that she can inculcate the discipline and direction needed for a win at national level.

"The Socialist Party cut in two," ran the headline in the centre-right Le Figaro

"Catastrophic scenario for the Socialist Party!" exclaimed the centre-left L'Express weekly.

'Political void'

Centre-right Le Point's Charlotte Chaffanjon described it as "a crazy night for the PS (Socialist Party)," that demonstrated "the profound malaise that reigns at the heart of a PS divided into factions fuelled by violent personal hatreds."

Dominique Pourquery, writing the editorial in the left-of-centre Liberation, said that the new leader, "elected after weeks of debates that have torn apart the PS, will have to restore unity to this shattered party".

"It's a task that's even more urgent than the famous renewal that we've been hearing so much of," he added.

Patrick Fluckiger in the L'Alsace regional paper said the Socialists had emerged from this episode "without a programme, a clear ideological line. Finally, there's a first secretary, but the political void continues."

As a result, "it's hard to imagine them working together," he said.

Difference of style

Segolene Royal at a polling booth in Melle, central France (Nov 21)
Ms Royal had promised to inject fresh blood into the party hierarchy

Most commentators agree that this has been more than a personality contest.

An editorial in Le Monde described the battle between Ms Aubry and Ms Royal as a "confrontation of two conceptions of the role of the PS, its organisations and strategy on political alliances."

Ms Aubry wants a party that is "social democrat and firmly anchored on the left".

Ms Royal - who has mooted forming an alliance with the centre-right MoDem party - "seeks out ideas as much on the right as on the extreme left, even if this sometimes strikes a populist note," Le Monde said.

"There's also a difference of style," Christophe Barbier, editor of L'Express noted.

"Aubry's image is fiercer. She's not looking for glamour, seduction or charm," he said.

Ms Royal, however, has "proved again that she is charismatic, like a high priestess or a guru, her enemies say. She wants to move people more than convince them," Mr Barbier added.

'Devastated battle field'

A number of commentators have suggested that the contest became what Le Point's Sylvie Pierre-Brosolette described as a "referendum for or against Segolene Royal".

The leading anti-Sarkozyist voice will, for several years be the voice of a woman - it's not an Obama-style revolution - but it's a sign

Laurent Joffrin

She told France Info radio that "Segolene Royal rightly or wrongly provokes an allergic reaction... She can pull big crowds, but in a way that makes the party's secularists and rationalists recoil in horror".

Mr Barbier said that Ms Aubry would be a far more consensual leader than Ms Royal, but warned this carries with it "a risk of stasis".

Robert Schneider, in the centre-left Le Nouvel Observateur, described Ms Aubry as the continuity candidate, representing "the status quo, the preservation of a party solidly implanted in the towns, the departments and the regions but incapable of achieving national power".

The prospect of the next presidential election is likely to loom large over attempts to re-unite the Socialists, Le Figaro editorialist Paul-Henri de Limbert said.

"Will they make peace? When you see the excesses of the PS's internal contest, one doubts it a bit, all the more so with another election coming into view, namely the one to designate a future presidential candidate.

Segolene Royal has been thinking about this since the night she lost to Nicolas Sarkozy. Perhaps the battle has only just begun," he wrote.

Jean-Pierre Bel, in La Nouvelle Republique du Centre-Ouest, was more upbeat:

"The PS is ideologically the same and will remain so... That's why, despite the wounds that have yet to heal and the still-fresh images of the devastated battle field, the indispensable and urgent work that the new team will have to grapple with from this morning on will put everyone back on the same path sooner that you'd imagine."

Laurent Joffrin in Liberation also identified some positives coming out of the leadership feud.

"As the PS remains the main opposition force, the leading anti-Sarkozyist voice will, for several years be the voice of a woman: It's not an Obama-style revolution. But it's a sign."

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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Profile: Martine Aubry
22 Nov 08 |  Europe
Profile: Segolene Royal
22 Nov 08 |  Europe
Country profile: France
15 Nov 08 |  Country profiles

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