The French Socialist Party probably couldn't have imagined a worse result than Thursday's vote for a new leader, which seems to have split the party right down the center. After a vote counting that literally took days and was at various points predicting different winners, it emerged Saturday that Martine Aubrey had won by just 42 votes. But Segolene Royal is alleging voter fraud and demanding a revote. Now the party, divided and derided, seems to be at an impassable juncture and moments away from collapse.
With such a small margin of victory (42 out of 134,784 cast), it's hard to see how the vote will be seen as conclusive to anyone. But even more embarassing that the narrow victory margin was the low turnout; more than 40 percent of the party’s 233,000 members didn't even vote at all, likely as an expression of their exasperation with the party.
This morning her lawyer reportedly asked her former partner and current party leader Francois Hollande (the father of Royal’s four children - awkward!), to annul the vote. Hollande must make a decision by Wednesday. But will another vote really solve the problem? Whichever the result, there is going to be a large faction conspiring against whoever is chosen as leader.
One could see across the French media today mockery of the Socialists' dilema, but perhaps where this was most interesting was in the leftist papers. Today's Le Monde wrote that the result of the vote couldn't have possibly been worse. The front page of Le parisien featured a rose, the symbol of the party, cleft in two. And the Journal du Dimanche cracked called the party "suicidal."
If the party were to split it would be a political earthquake for France. It is the second largest party in the country, the equivalent of the Democratic Party in the US. It is still very powerful in the provinces and controls most French major cities. As recently as 2002 it had a majority in the parliament.
The fall of France's Socialiast party is symptomatic of the larger problems being expienced by European leftist parties. It is perhaps ironic that just as the global economic collapse should be giving their ideology the most credence, the European left seems to be more unpopular than any time in the last half century.