Tags: sarkozy | party.losses | election

Sarkozy Party Big Loser in Regional Elections

Sunday, 14 Mar 2010 08:42 PM

PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy suffered a stinging setback in French regional elections on Sunday as projections showed his right-wing party trailing in the first round vote.

The opposition Socialists now look set to crush the governing UMP party next Sunday in the second round of the vote, the last ballot-box test for Sarkozy ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

The far-right National Front led by firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen made a surprise showing in the vote to elect 26 regional councils, picking up a substantial 12 percent of the vote.

The election was seen as punishment for Sarkozy's party at a time when voters are reeling from the global economic slowdown that has sent unemployment soaring to its highest level in a decade.

"The French people are saying 'We do not want this unfair and inefficient policy. We do not want a policy that is destroying what France holds dearest -- its social welfare model, equality and fraternity," said Socialist party leader Martine Aubry.

"We want to be reunited with a society that is caring, fair and where people can live together," she said.

Pollster TNS-Sofres gave the opposition Socialists 30 percent of the vote against 26.7 percent for Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party. Opinionway gave the Socialists 28.4 percent and 27.3 for the UMP.

Projections showed the Socialists could easily tap into the support of smaller left-wing parties eliminated in the first round to score a major victory.

The Socialists already control 20 of the 22 French regions spread across the mainland and Corsica, along with the four councils in overseas territories.

Turnout looked set to reach a record low with more than half of voters staying away from the polls, a factor seen as particularly damaging for Sarkozy's party.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon went on national television shortly after polls closed and called on voters to turn out for round two.

"Contrary to the forecasts, nothing is decided for the second round," he said.

Sarkozy has sought to downplay the likely result and said there will be no major government reshuffle even if the 20 members of his cabinet who are on the ballot are defeated.

The regional elections are the first held in France since a year-long recession sent unemployment soaring to nearly 10 percent, with about three million people now out of a job.

The vote came amid social tensions after the government's public debate on "national identity" raised racial sensitivities and has been widely slammed as a divisive project that stigmatises immigrants.

Far-right leader Le Pen appeared jubilant on national television, holding up a poster banned by a court that read "No to Islamism" and declaring that his party's future was bright.

The 81-year-old politician called on voters to back the party again in round two and ensure that the "National Front is a French force, combative and capable of rebuilding this country which is in a horrible state."

Sarkozy is struggling with the lowest approval ratings since his 2007 election and commentators agree he no longer looks unbeatable in 2012.

Some 44 million voters were eligible to cast ballots to choose 1,880 councillors from party lists to control budgets for regional transport, secondary education and local economic development.

"I don't think the national government is really tackling social welfare -- in terms of jobs for example," said Patricia Abela, a 41-year-old insurance worker, after voting for the opposition Socialists in southwest Paris.

Christine Eluard, a 47-year-old child minder, said she cast her ballot for Sarkozy's party but judged that on the whole the elections were seen "rather more as a vote of censure" for the leadership.

Turnout was weak, however, in line with pollsters' predictions -- reflecting a loss of faith in French politicians' ability to ease the pain from the 2008-2009 crisis.

The interior ministry said that overall turnout was just under 40 percent as voting at most stations neared a close -- 10 points lower than during the last regional elections in 2004.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.


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PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy suffered a stinging setback in French regional elections on Sunday as projections showed his right-wing party trailing in the first round vote.
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Sunday, 14 Mar 2010 08:42 PM
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