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Centrist party key to French municipal vote

Latest update : 2008-03-11

The electoral lists for the final round of France's municipal elections will be submitted Tuesday. Centrist party MoDem, solicited by both right and left wings, is a key element behind the vote.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party on Monday put a brave face on its losses in the first round of municipal elections and turned itsattention to limiting the damage in the second round.

Branded "Warning" by the headline of the daily Le Parisien, the results of Sunday's vote showed leftist parties won 47.94 percent overall level while centre-right parties took 45.49 percent. Turnout was relatively high at around 65 percent.

The municipal vote was the first major electoral test for Sarkozy since he stormed to power 10 months ago and comes at a time when his own approval ratings have slumped.

Although he was elected on a pledge to reform the economy, many voters feel he has not protected them from the rising cost of living and think he has focused too much on his private life, marrying former model Carla Bruni after a whirlwind romance.

The left kept control of France's second city Lyon and the popular Socialist mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe looked set to return to power in the capital after the March 16 runoff ballot.

The Socialists won the northern port city of Rouen from the right and are well placed to win several more after the final vote next Sunday.

But the UMP insisted the results were far from the crushing defeat that some had predicted and asked voters to give their party enough local clout to push on with economic reforms.

"Nicolas Sarkozy's policy of change and reform needs a pluralism so that there isn't a hostile barrier to reform, a
barrier opposing change, a barrier of local tax which would slow the change that France needs," former prime minister and UMP ice president Jean-Pierre Raffarin told French television.

The key battlegrounds on March 16 will be the southern cities Marseille and Toulouse and, in the east, Strasbourg. All are controlled by the right but could fall to the Socialists.

Both the right and the left face a week of negotiations to try to stitch up local deals, with the centrist Democratic Movement party (MODEM) often holding the balance of power.

However, MODEM leader Francois Bayrou, who finished third in the 2007 presidential election, has so far refused to back either side and told Sarkozy not to underestimate the result.

"I am convinced that this vote, which has largely gone the way of the left, is not a vote in support of the Socialists but a warning vote against those in power," he said on Sunday.

Pollsters Opinionway said 27 percent of those who voted did so looking to punish the government for its performance, while 56 percent said that wasn't an issue for them.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the government would press ahead with its reform agenda regardless of the final results.

Date created : 2008-03-11