Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party was in disarray today after a vote to elect its next leader produced a razor-thin result and both candidates claimed victory.
An electoral commission of the Union for a Popular Movement party was sifting through the votes after allies of both candidates - former prime minister Francois Fillon and former budget minister Jean-Francois Cope - both claimed pockets of vote-rigging in Sunday's balloting.
The winner will lead opposition to President Francois Hollande's Socialists, who dominate both houses of parliament and nearly all of France's regions.
In the spring, after a decade in power, Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party lost both the presidency and control of the National Assembly to the Socialists.
Laurent Wauquiez, a former European affairs minister, said the dispute gave the party a "very bad image" and former agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire called the situation "surreal."
In a blog entry entitled "Stop" former prime minister Alain Juppe wrote: "We have to get out of this lamentable situation to avoid the explosion of our party."
Mr Fillon projects himself as an even-tempered moderate, while UMP secretary-general Cope has reached out to the far right for support.
He led the legislative effort that banned Muslim veils in France.
France doesn't have any elections again until 2014 - when voters will elect mayors, regional officials and European Parliament MEPs, but party leadership is seen as a possible springboard to the presidency.