PARIS — Three weeks into an impasse over who won a leadership vote in France’s center-right opposition party, Francois Fillon — who was declared the loser, though he has refused to concede — proposed Tuesday that a new election be held next spring in which he probably would not run.
In a radio interview, Fillon, a former prime minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, gave his formal support to an increasingly vocal campaign within the party, the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, to hold a new ballot under ground rules to be determined.
“If we are talking about a revote before the summer, with a reform of the statutes and fully opening the game to new candidates to ensure a reoxygenation of our party, then I am in favor,’’ said Fillon, a centrist.
The disputed Nov. 18 election has sown confusion and embarrassment across France and in particular within the party, which this year has ceded both the presidency and its parliamentary majority to the Socialists.
Fillon, 58, had been favored to win the vote and has made no secret of his belief that it was stolen from him by Jean-Francois Cope, a 48-year-old protege of Sarkozy. Cope is the party’s acting leader, and he wants to move the party further right to challenge the popularity of the far-right National Front.
Fillon and Cope, who have seen their popularity drop precipitously in opinion polls since the dispute began, have held a series of meetings over the past week, ostensibly aimed at forging a face-saving compromise and averting a damaging party split.
Against the advice of several party luminaries, including Sarkozy, Fillon has nonetheless moved to establish a splinter faction in the National Assembly — the Rally UMP — which as of last week counted 72 of the party’s 194 parliamentary representatives. The group has vowed to dissolve, however, if a new vote is held next year.