May 22, 2015 / 12:17 PM / 3 years ago

Party vote gives France's Hollande boost, fends off rebels' challenge

PARIS (Reuters) - Socialist party members backed French President Francois Hollande’s policies in an internal party vote, boosting his chances of standing unopposed for a re-election ticket in 2017 despite months of tension over the government’s economic line.

French President Francois Hollande attends the "Business and Climate Summit 2015" at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

With a large part of the vote counted, a broad-brush policy statement put forward by Hollande loyalists for the party’s annual congress won more than 60 percent of the vote, a party official told Reuters on Friday.

Back-benchers who have strongly contested Hollande’s pro-business switch over the past months in parliament and in the media had been hoping for a narrower win, which would have allowed them to influence the government’s policies.

“If the majority had been tighter, around 50 percent, it would have been a slap in the face for Hollande,” Viavoice pollsters’ head Francois Miquet-Marty said. “The vote shows there is no credible alternative within the Socialist party ... this was not a foregone conclusion.”

Still France’s most unpopular president in modern history, Hollande has his work cut out to get re-elected in 2017, but the vote ahead of the Socialists’ June 5-7 congress should help contain opposition within his party, analysts said.

The results from Thursday’s party vote were a relief for Hollande’s backers, with one member of his inner circle saying it “should put an end” to pressures for the party to hold primaries to decide who will get the ticket for 2017.

The results came as the French economy is showing signs of turning around, a factor - together with the next presidential and parliament elections getting nearer - that helps explain why the party is trying to close ranks.

French industrial morale rose more than expected in May to its highest level in nearly four years, data from state statistics body INSEE showed on Friday. The economy grew at its fastest pace in two years in the first quarter.

It is still not plain sailing for Hollande. While they acknowledged defeat, disgruntled back-benchers nevertheless said on Friday there was “no blank check” for the government and they would keep asking for tweaks to the government’s policies.

Socialist party secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis acknowledged a lack of enthusiasm among supporters, as many who did not come and vote on the policy statements.

“Our language is too technocratic, we don’t know how to talk (to party supporters), we have ... no dynamic. We need to change that,” he told BFM TV.

Viavoice’s Miquet-Marty said that while the internal divisions may have been contained, the lack of enthusiasm could be damaging.

“There is no clear vision for tomorrow ... no motivating discourse for the years to come. The substantive work that left-wing voters expect (of the Socialist party) is not there yet.”

Reporting by Julien Ponthus, Emmanuel Jarry and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams

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