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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-10

Amid record voter apathy, France's Socialist Party have triumphed over the ruling right-wing UMP party in regional elections. The far-right National Front made significant headway while the centrist MoDem party suffered a spectacular defeat.

Voter turnout at a record low:  The first round of France’s regional elections was marked by huge voter apathy, with 53.65 percent of voters not bothering to cast their ballot. This far surpasses the previous record of 42.3 percent in the 1998 regional elections. Taking into account all elections in which French voters have taken part, only the 2009 European elections saw greater voter apathy, at 59.37 percent.
“The way French President Nicolas Sarkozy conducts his politics is not in tune with the demands of the electorate,” Jean-Daniel Lévy of polling group CSA told Agence France Presse, who said Sarkozy’s UMP party was the biggest victim of voter apathy. Frédéric Dabi, of pollster Ifop, said apathy was “spiralling” from one election to the next.
The National Front makes headway: Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) has reason to celebrate, getting sufficient votes (11.55 percent) in this first round to qualify for the second on March 21 in 12 out of a total 22 regions in mainland France. (There were no FN candidates in France's four overseas departments.) Le Pen told television station TF1 on Sunday that his party, “which the president had declared beaten and buried, has shown it is still a force to be reckoned with in France.”
The result is not as spectacular as the 14.7 percent overall result won by the FN in the 2004 regional elections, but it is certainly better than the 10 percent the party had set itself as a goal before this year's vote. It is a huge improvement on the paltry 4.29 percent of the vote it won in the 2007 legislative elections and the 6.8 percent in the 2009 European elections. Le Pen’s daughter Marine won a staggering 18.31 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, making her a credible successor to her father as party head.
The FN traditionally does much better in regional, rather than national, elections. But analysts point to Sarkozy’s much vaunted debate on French national identity for giving the FN the advantage. In launching the debate, Sarkozy had hoped to attract voters who would otherwise support Le Pen, whose party exploited fears over immigration and the role of Islam in French society.
The left confirms its dominance in France’s regions: the French Socialist Party (PS) has every reason to hope for a resounding victory in the second round of the vote, after beating the ruling UMP party by 29.48 percent to 26.18 percent.
The PS came in first in 11 regions. If the party is to make realistic progress toward a coalition with the green Europe Ecologie party and radical left Front de Gauche before the second round vote, their combined score (already at more than 50 percent) would allow them to take home most of France's 26 regions (including overseas departments).
Centrist Bayrou fails: Only one candidate (Jean Lassalle in Aquitaine) of Francois Bayrou’s centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem) party got enough votes to go through to the second round. Overall, the MoDem only got 4.3 percent of the vote, indicating that the party has lost half its supporters since the 2009 European elections, a continuous fall since Bayrou came third (behind Sarkozy and socialist candidate Segolene Royal) in the 2007 presidential election. The worst indicator for Bayrou’s party is that radical-left party Front de Gauche, which opposes a coalition between the MoDem and the PS, came ahead with six percent of the vote.
Sarkozy punished? Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party has tried to play down its failures, with Prime Minister François Fillon saying that “it is impossible to link national consequences to local results”. Not so for the opposition parties: François Hollande, former head of the PS, told France 2 television that Sarkozy should “take heed of the lessons from this punishment vote”, while Daniel Cohn Bendit of Europe Ecologie told TF1 television that the UMP “should consider a change of leadership”.


Date created : 2010-03-15


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