(Bloomberg) -- France’s Republicans edged closer to a breakup as the party’s bitter infighting played out in a Paris court, with its leader Eric Ciotti challenging a motion to expel him from the group after he struck a pact with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally for the upcoming legislative election.

Paris judges on Friday evening ordered a temporary suspension of Ciotti’s ouster to give him time to file a lawsuit to argue the substance of his case. Ciotti claims he’s still the group’s president, and his lawyer had argued that rules were broken during the move to kick him out.

With the deepening schism, the conservative party of past presidents Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy has hit a new low. Les Républicains have seen their fortunes fade over recent years, squeezed by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist group and the rise of Le Pen’s National Rally. The ruling risks throwing the group into further disarray.

With Macron dissolving the National Assembly on Sunday and calling a new vote after his group was trounced by Le Pen’s party in European Parliament elections, Ciotti sought to get the Republicans to form an alliance with the National Rally. That prompted public calls for his resignation from other senior Republicans, and the party then decided to expel him.

In court on Friday, an attorney representing the Republicans secretary general said Ciotti’s exclusion was done by the book, and was for displaying “autocratic behavior” in his solitary decision that’s “in conflict with the entirety of the political apparel of the the movement.” 

“Mr. Ciotti violated the statutes from the outset,” said Benoît Verger, who acted on behalf of Secretary General Annie Genevard. “He did not have the power to decide the political orientation of the movement.”

Philippe Prigent, acting for Ciotti, asked Paris judges to prevent a “putsch” that would empower Genevard and rule that his client should be allowed to circulate freely at the party headquarters.

“He doesn’t want to get his face smashed in,” Prigent said.

The turmoil at the heart of the Republicans adds yet another wrinkle in the complicated political landscape emerging in France. The country’s left-leaning political parties have already sealed an alliance to join forces in the election, with polls showing it can win the second-biggest bloc behind Le Pen’s National Rally, effectively squeezing Macron’s centrist group.

Once the main conservative force in the country, the Republicans have seen their influence diminished. In an Elabe poll this week, the party is seen drawing 6.5% of the vote in the first round of the election on June 30. 

Still, a potential implosion of the group raises questions over how many of its lawmakers could cooperate with Le Pen’s party, with that number likely to have far-reaching consequences for the composition of the parliament.  

Ciotti, who was elected the party’s leader in late 2022, had fought on a platform that called for a crackdown on immigration and criticized so-called woke and Islamist ideologies, putting his political platform close to Le Pen’s. He won 53.7% of members’ votes.

 

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