Sarkozy suffers 'punishment vote' in French local polls: Socialists

17th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing party suffered losses in French local elections Sunday, poll projections showed, in what the opposition Socialists called a "punishment vote".

   PARIS, March 17, 2008 - Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing party suffered
losses in French local elections Sunday, poll projections showed, in what the
opposition Socialists called a "punishment vote" for the reforming president.
   The vote, the first major test of Sarkozy's popularity since he defeated
the Socialist Segelone Royal last May, was seen as a referendum on the
achievements of the president whose opinion poll ratings have plummeted.
   The Socialists won cities across the country including Strasbourg, Toulouse
and the right-wing bastions of Amiens, Caen and Reims after the final round of
the vote, projections by Ipsos-Dell and TNS Sofres said.
   The left was already guaranteed Paris and the third biggest city Lyon after
last weekend's first round.
   But projections showed that the right would hang on to the symbolic prize
of the second city of Marseille in the south.
   Segolene Royal said the results were a "punishment vote" and called on the
government to change its policies.
   But Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the pace of Sarkozy's reforms would
continue unabated.
   Within minutes of the polls closing he was playing down the importance of
the results, telling TFI television that the left had merely "partially
restored the situation" to that before the last local elections in 2001.
   Sarkozy has however signalled that the results would lead to some
   "The people will have spoken. I will naturally take into account what they
expressed," he said last week.
   Aides have suggested an image makeover was in order to rekindle voter
approval of the 53-year-old president, criticised for a brash and at times
extravagant style that earned him the nickname "the Bling-Bling president."
   Fewer than four in 10 voters now approve of his performance. Last July his
ratings stood at 67 percent.
   Since coming to power, Sarkozy has eased France's 35-hour work week, which
is the shortest in Europe; cut pension benefits for some state workers, which
presidents before him tried and failed to do; and given universities more
   Unemployment meanwhile has fallen to 7.5 percent, its lowest level in more
than two decades. But this has not dispelled public gloom, with consumer
confidence at a 21-year low.
   Pollsters attribute Sarkozy's dismal ratings drop to pessimism about the
economy coupled with perceptions that he is distracted by his personal life,
after his divorce from second wife Cecilia and swift marriage to
supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni.
   Despite their gains in Sunday's vote, the rudderless Socialists' troubles
were far from over, as a leadership battle loomed.
   The elections saw Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe boost his position as a
possible contender against Royal -- and a potential presidential candidate in
   Lacking a clear political programme, the Socialists remain in disarray,
having lost three presidential elections in a row -- most humiliatingly in
2002 when Lionel Jospin was trounced by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in
the first round.


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