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Divisions dominate Socialist congress

Article published on the 2008-11-15 Latest update 2008-11-15 16:13 TU

Outgoing First Secretary François Hollande(Photo: Reuters)

Outgoing First Secretary François Hollande
(Photo: Reuters)

Socialist Party power-brokers are expected to meet overnight to decide whether to try and block former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal's bid to become party leader. They are at the annual congress in Rheims this weekend where, despite a call for unity from Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, factions continue to squabble over the party's leadership.

After months of declarations that Royal was not interested in the job, her candidacy for the post of First Secretary was officially announced on Friday evening.

The former presidential candidate has shifted left during the financial crisis, saying that bosses of failed banks should be banned from working in finance and calling for a windfall tax on oil companies.

But she also favours alliances with other parties, notably François Bayrou's liberal Modem.

On Saturday afternoon, she called for a consultation of the party membership on that question, claiming that it would be a revival of the Popular Front which brought the left to power in the 1930s.

Speaking to reporters at the conference in the Champagne capital, left-winger Benoît Hamon also said he will stand for the First Secretary's post, left vacant by Royal's former partner François Hollande

But Lille Mayor and former Employment Minister Martine Aubry and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë also submitted policy resolutions to the party membership in the run-up to the conference, a move which usually precedes a bid for the party leadership.

That in turn could be an indication of the candidate's intention to be the party's next presidential candidate.

Delanoë was enthusiastically applauded on Saturday afternoon when he appealed for unity.

"Let all those who have only nuances of appreciation and not real differences have the courage to unite," he declared.

But he and his supporters are expected to meet Aubry and Hamon overnight to decide whether to form an anyone-but-Ségolène alliance.

The deciding vote takes place next Thursday.

"Some people here have even put forward the slightly crazy hypothesis that next Thursday party members will have to decide between no less than four candidates," reports Florent Guignard in Rheims for RFI's French service.