Aubry turns the screw on rival

By John Lichfield

After weeks of caution and dullness, the French Socialist presidential primary campaign has turned compellingly nasty in its final days.

Martine Aubry, the leader of the Socialist Party, used a rude French word - empapaouter (verb transitive, to bugger) - in the final television debate before tomorrow's decisive vote. The clip of her remarks has already gone viral.

The party leader and Mayor of Lille was trying to convince a prime-time television audience that her rival for the Socialist presidential nomination, Francois Hollande, was a dangerously "soft" leftist with vague and evasive political positions.

"The French have the impression that politicians of that kind want to bugger them," Aubry, 60, said.

"Empapaouter" can also mean "cheat" or "screw". But in modern usage, it is usually used to mean "bugger".

On Europe 1 radio yesterday, Hollande was asked, by a giggling interviewer, if he felt that his long-time colleague, party leader and rival had tried to empapaouter him.

"Didn't feel a thing," Hollande retorted.

Aubry's aggressive tactics in the final debate, and in a series of radio interviews yesterday, were taken as a sign of desperation in her camp.

But they also reflect years of ill-feeling between two grandees from the same moderate wing of the Socialists.

Until the interjection of her rude word, near the end of the debate, Aubry had made little impact. At the end, she turned away rather than shake Hollande's hand.

Hollande, 57, a former party leader, topped the poll in the six-candidate first round last Sunday with 39.2 per cent of the vote. Now, the race is between him and Aubry, the runner-up with 30.4 per cent.

Three of the eliminated candidates, including Segolene Royal, the defeated presidential candidate in 2007, have endorsed Hollande. Royal is Hollande's estranged former partner and the mother of his four children.

Both surviving candidates have refused to align themselves with the harder left, protectionist, anti-globalisation message of the third-placed contender, Arnaud Montebourg, who said yesterday he would not recommend his voters to support either of them.

Everything points to a comfortable victory for the moderate, quick-witted, humorous but uninspiring Hollande in the second round tomorrow.

Independent

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