Opposition poised to whip Sarkozy in local polls

March 10th, 2008 - 3:28 pm ICT by admin  

Paris, March 10 (DPA) Following Sunday’s first round of French municipal elections, the opposition Socialists were poised to score a significant victory in next week’s second round and hand President Nicolas Sarkozy a stinging rebuke. If the trend continues, the Socialists may realize their goal of taking back some 30 cities that they had lost to Sarkozy’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in the 2001 vote.

They could also take control of France’s four largest municipalities - Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse - as well as the politically important city of Strasbourg.

In Lyon, Socialist incumbent Gerald Collomb easily won re-election over former Justice Minister Dominique Perben with some 52.5 percent of the vote, according to estimates based on preliminary vote counts.

The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, appeared to be heading for a convincing win in next Sunday’s second round, after drawing some 42 percent of the vote, compared to 28 percent for his UMP opponent, Francoise de Panafieu.

In Strasbourg, the Socialist challenger, Roland Ries, also seemed poised for a win, while Socialists ousted the UMP incumbent in Rouen and were leading in Reims, Rennes, Lille, Caen and numerous other mid-sized cities.

But the outcome was delicately poised in Marseille and Toulouse, where estimates had the UMP incumbents and their Socialist challengers running neck and neck, with a decision to fall in the second round.

According to estimates made by the CSA-Dexia institute based on exit polls, the Socialists and their left-wing allies the Greens garnered some 47.5 percent of the vote nationwide, compared to only 40 percent for the UMP and its allies.

The same poll, made for Europe 1 radio, had the centrist MoDem party of former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou with 4.5 percent, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right-wing National Front with 2 percent and extreme left-wing parties also with 2 percent.

Despite its low tally nationwide, the MoDem made strong showings in a number of large cities, such as Paris, Toulouse and Marseille, putting it in the position of kingmaker in the second round.

Socialist Segolene Royal, who was defeated by Sarkozy in last year’s presidential election, called on her party to “form alliances everywhere with the MoDem.”

Sunday’s vote was not a total loss for Sarkozy.

In Bordeaux, the city’s UMP mayor, former prime minister Alain Juppe, won re-election as expected, with 56.6 percent of the vote. Sarkozy’s 21-year-old son, Jean, was elected to the council of the department of Hauts-de-Seine with some 52 percent of the vote.

Although a majority of voters have said that they would cast their ballots according to local issues, Sarkozy’s unpopularity certainly played a significant role in the outcome.

The president had hoped to turn the election into a referendum on his policies nine months after taking office, but his swift plunge in the polls turned him into such a liability that he declared on Thursday: “I am not a candidate in the municipal elections”.

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