Sunday, March 09, 2008

The French send a message to Sarkozy...

And it's not "we love you". Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative Union for Popular Movement (UMP) is taking something of a beating in local French elections:
President Nicolas Sarkozy's camp suffered setbacks in several large cities in round one of French local elections Sunday, dealing a fresh blow to the right-winger whose popularity has plummeted since his triumphant election last year. Exit polls showed the opposition Socialists well-placed to score big gains over Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), in next Sunday's decisive second round of a vote cast as a referendum on his presidency.

Nationwide, the Socialists took an estimated 47.5 percent of the vote, well ahead of the UMP and its allies on 40 percent, according to a CSA survey. Turnout was high, estimated at between 68 and 70.5 percent.

Socialist leader Francois Hollande said voters had sent "a warning to the president of the republic and the government on the policies conducted over the past nine months."

Local elections rarely have an effect on federal policies in France, however the loss of support in major cities is being treated as something of a referendum on Sarkozy's performance and popularity.

The Socialists were on course to keep hold of Paris and cemented their grip on France's third city Lyon -- claiming victory in round one -- as well as the northern capital Lille.

Exit polls showed the left-wing party dethroning the UMP in the northwestern cities of Rouen and Caen and the southern city of Rodez.

Right-wing former prime minister Alain Juppe held on to the southwestern wine capital Bordeaux, winning reelection in the first round.

But the Socialists appeared well-placed to seize the eastern capital Strasbourg -- one of three key trophies up for grabs along with the second city Marseille on the Mediterrean and southwestern Toulouse.

Both southern cities were headed for a close-fought second round between the right-wing incumbents and left-wing challengers.

The symbolic loss of one or more major city would further hurt Sarkozy's reputation and undermine his ability to plough ahead with wide-ranging reforms.

Sarkozy has been accused in the French media of being distracted by... his wife.

The president's divorce from his second wife Cecilia, followed by a jet-setting romance and swift marriage to supermodel and singer Carla Bruni, gave many voters the impression he was neglecting his promises to boost incomes and rein in the cost of living.

The Socialists accuse Sarkozy of hobnobbing with the rich and famous while drawing up a painful austerity plan for ordinary folk, which the government denies.

France wasn't the only country to reject a right-wing agenda. Spain held elections today too.

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