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France

Left-wing alliance trumps Sarkozy’s party in regional polls

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-22

The ruling UMP party of President Nicolas Sarkozy experienced a wipeout in the second round of France’s regional elections, with the Socialists and their left-wing allies winning in all but one of mainland France's 22 regions.

Left-wing parties claimed a sweeping victory in the second round of France’s regional elections on Sunday, dealing the centre-right party of President Nicolas Sarkozy a stinging blow in the last electoral contest before the 2012 presidential poll. 

The Socialist Party and its left-wing allies picked up a record 54.12 percent of the national vote, compared to 35.5 percent for Sarkozy's UMP party and 9.2 percent for the National Front (far right), according to interior ministry figures.

At 51.2 percent, turnout was up from last week’s first round but remained well below the record-high 65 percent registered in the last regional polls in 2004.

Left-wing coalitions won all but one of mainland France’s 22 regions, with the UMP managing to hold on to Alsace, a staunch bastion of conservatism and the region most coveted by the left.

Victories for the UMP in French Guiana (a French overseas department in South America) and the Indian Ocean island of Reunion – made possible by a split ticket on the left – provided only meagre consolation for the ruling party.
 

A blow for Sarkozy

Prime Minister François Fillon acknowledged the left's victory in a televised address soon after polls closed at 8pm. While taking his "share of responsibility" for the defeat, he said the government would stick to "the course set out by national elections".

The centre-right’s wipeout – its worst result in three decades – is expected to pile the pressure on President Sarkozy, whose approval rate has plummeted to as low as 30 percent in recent polls.

By taking an unusually prominent role in the campaign, the French president appeared to turn a regional contest into a mid-term test of his presidency. In doing so, analysts say, he offered disgruntled voters a chance to use their ballot to punish his government.

Sarkozy has alluded to a possible lull in the pace of reform after the elections. But he may be forced to carry out a cabinet reshuffle in the coming days.

The electoral rout is likely to embolden those within the UMP who have called for an end to Sarkozy’s policy of "opening" to the left, under which several former Socialists, including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Immigration Minister Eric Besson, have joined the centre-right government.

A new balance on the left

For the Socialists, the polls mark a stunning turnabout just ten months after internal squabbling helped bring about a calamitous defeat in 2009 European elections.

Socialist leader Martine Aubry hailed "an unprecedented victory for the left", saying the French people had "rejected the policies of the president and the government".

Having emerged as France’s leading party with 29.14 percent of the vote last Sunday, the Socialist Party paired with the Green platform – known as Europe Ecologie – and the Left Front ahead of the second round.

They also benefited from the presence of the far-right National Front in 12 regions, which split the right-wing vote.

The coalition’s make-up marks the advent of a new balance of power on the left, what the historian and Socialist Party member Alain Bergougnioux has described as a shift from "a Socialist-Communist axis that was open to the Greens" to a new "Socialist-Green axis that is open to the far left".

It remains to be seen whether the left’s new-found unity will help it mount a credible challenge for the presidency in 2012.

Colcanopa draws the elections
"Enough already about your grand slam!". Failure to capture Alsace means the left has fallen just short of matching the French rugby team's grand slam. Credits: Colcanopa for FRANCE 24

Date created : 2010-03-21

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