Sarkozy dealt setback in French local electionsMarch 17th, 2008 - 2:36 pm ICT by admin
Paris, March 17 (DPA) In the first electoral test since he took office 10 months ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was dealt a stinging defeat by the opposition Socialists and their left-wing allies in Sunday’s local elections. The Socialist mayors of Paris and Lille, Bertrand Delanoe and Martine Aubry, were re-elected by comfortable margins, while Socialist challengers defeated the conservative mayors of the politically important cities of Toulouse and Strasbourg.
Delanoe’s largely expected win in Paris thrust him to the forefront of the contest to be his party’s nominee for the 2012 presidential election, along with last year’s defeated Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal.
Socialists also ousted right-wing incumbents in several dozen mid-sized cities, such as Reims, Amiens, Saint-Etienne, Caen, Blois and Quimper.
In addition, Education Minister Xavier Darcos conceded that he lost his mayor’s post in Perigueux, despite the fact that Prime Minister Francois Fillon had made a high-profile stop in the city to boost his candidacy.
However, Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) won a face-saving victory in France’s second largest city, Marseille, where incumbent Jean-Claude Gaudin narrowly won re-election over his Socialist challenger.
Fillon said it was “out of place to draw conclusions on a national level” from the results as they were not representative of the true state of voter sentiment in the country because of low turnout and the importance of local issues.
According to estimates by several polling institutes, fewer than two out of three registered voters cast their ballots Sunday, the lowest-ever turnout for French local elections.
However, Socialist Party head Francois Hollande said, “The president of the Republic is obligated to listen to the message sent him by the French people.”
With less than four months to go before France takes over the presidency of the European Union, it is unlikely that Sarkozy will shake up his government or alter his ambitious reform policies as a result of the vote.
What French analysts expect, instead, is a modest reshuffle of his personal advisors and a change of style.
The daily Le Monde reported that Sarkozy’s plunge in the polls has already led to a change in the way the president conducts himself.
On his recent trip to South Africa, gone were the designer sunglasses in which Sarkozy had been frequently photographed. In addition, his jogging outfit and ostentatious wristwatch have virtually vanished from his public appearances.
Sarkozy and his ex-model wife, Carla, have also disappeared from the covers of the glamour magazines they dominated for months.
“He has been forced to adapt,” one of his advisors told Le Monde.
But a leader of the UMP said it remained to be seen “if Sarkozy will have the force of character to persist in his metamorphosis”.
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