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Aubry Beats Royal as French Socialist Leader in Contested Battle

Martine Aubry's narrow win over former presidential candidate Segolene Royal has further divided French Socialists. Aubry vows to take the Socialists further to the left than the more centrist Royal.

French Socialist party members Martine Aubry, left, delivers her speech after announcing she was a candidate to become Secretary General of the French Socialist Party on the last day of the 75th French Socialist Party congress in Reims

The rivalry between Aubry, left, and Royal has left their socialist party even more divided

The current mayor of the northern city Lille has been chosen as the new leader of the French Socialists, ending the infighting that left the party unable to provide effective opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy's right of center UMP party.

Martine Aubry, 58, won by a razor thin margin of only 102 votes out of 134,800 cast, the former socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal according to official ballot results made public on Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Aubry, a former labor minister best known for introducing the controversial 35 hour work week in France, is also the daughter of Jacques Delors, the former president of the European Commission.

Over the weekend, Aubry had claimed victory with an initial lead of only 42 votes out of nearly 137,000 cast, prompting Royal to cry foul and demand verification of the vote count. Then on Monday, a party commission convened to look at claims by both camps and by Tuesday, decided which candidate was the winner.

Rivalry between candidates splits party further

French Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal, right, shakes hands with conservative front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, minutes before their only televised debate in May 2007

Royal was the socialist candidate against Sarkozy in last year's presidential elections

The vote count clash splits the deeply divided party even further between a more traditional leftist faction backing Aubry and the more centrist members supporting Royal.

Many party leaders voted for Aubry not based on her politics, but because of their intense dislike of her glamorous rival. Royal has been accused of lacking depth and the consistency of her convictions. This became apparent during the presidential campaign last year when she switched her position on issues several times.

The bitterly contested leadership battle has also left the Socialists in even more disarray and weaker in opposing Sarkozy, who has undermined the party by poaching some its most prominent leaders, such as foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, into his conservative government.

Infighting must stop

Aubry, who succeeds Francois Hollande, Royal's former partner and father of their four children, will first need to restore the Socialist Party's credibility and unite the warring factions.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is the party's parliamentary leader, had urged the two women to call a truce.

"We must stop this totally ridiculous soap opera," Ayrault said on French television. "Whoever leads the Socialist Party tomorrow will not be able to do so without the others."

Aubry, for her part, even gave her rival a peck on the cheek.

"I want to tell Segolene that together we will win for the French people," she said.

Aubry vows to steer Socialists further left

At the same time, Aubry has also vowed to steer the party further to the left, warning that Royal's shift towards the middle would alienate the party's traditional working class voter base.

Former French Presidents Jacques Chirac, left, who succeeded Francois Mitterrand, right, shaking hands

The last French socialist to serve as President was Francois Mitterrand, right

A BVA opinion poll published on Tuesday found that most leftist voters viewed Aubry's victory as party leader in a positive light. But 30 percent had said they still preferred Royal as the party's the candidate in the 2012 presidential elections compared to only 20 percent for Aubry, suggesting that a more centrist candidate had a better chance of winning.

The last time France had a president from the Socialist party, was when Francois Mitterrand served from 1981 to 1995.

Still, the party controls nearly all of Frances 22 regional councils as well as key cities such as Paris, Lyon and Toulouse, even though it has minority representation in the national parliament.

Royal won't fade away

Some Socialists had even warned of that the party would be unable to overcome the personal loathing between Aubry and Royal, who has no intention of fading away.

"We managed the exploit of convincing half, and maybe a little over half, of the Socialist Party even though we had the entire party establishment against us," Royal told reporters.

"We have waged a fine battle to renovate the party and that battle continues, " she said.

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