PARIS (Reuters) - The man tipped to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy as French president accidentally backed an austerity plan hatched by Sarkozy’s conservative government when it was put to a vote in parliament.
Voting records showed that Socialist Francois Hollande, the pollsters’ favourite to win next year’s presidential ballot, broke rank with his party to side with the conservative camp when the National Assembly voted on the austerity measures on Wednesday.
An aide of Hollande offered an explanation for the error: Hollande had asked another Socialist to register his vote in his absence and the colleague erroneously voted yes rather than no in an electronic ballot, both for himself and for Hollande.
The government’s 12-billion-euro austerity plan, which includes the abolition of tax breaks and a higher tax on sugary drinks, was approved by the lower house of parliament by a margin of 163 votes to 97, so it is set to sail through parliament and would have done so irrespective of the embarrassing mishap.
Jerome Cahuzac, the man asked to execute the proxy vote for Hollande, is head of the parliamentary finance committee and seen by some as a possible finance minister if the left wins power in a double dose of presidential and parliamentary elections between late April and early June 2012.
Hollande currently enjoys a comfortable lead over others in the competition to select a Socialist presidential challenger, in a primary contest that will conclude in October. Regular polls of voter intentions also consistently show him beating Sarkozy in the presidential showdown.
Reporting by Patrick Vignal and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Brian Love, Editing by Sitaraman Shankar