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Sarkozy’s party outperformed in local elections

Preliminary results suggest opposition Socialists took majority of votes amid low turnout.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, photographed in Paris on Saturday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, photographed in Paris on Saturday.
Image: AP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure, Pool

FRENCH LEFTISTS AND THE resurgent far right enjoyed strong showings in local elections yesterday that left President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing conservatives struggling to maintain prominence.

Sarkozy’s role in launching the international military intervention in Libya on the eve of the voting did not immediately appear to have swayed the outcome of the voting in France’s cantons.

The elections for France’s smallest administrative segment are relatively minor, but they are the last test of parties’ nationwide strength before next year’s presidential elections.

Turnout was about 45 per cent, low for France, the Interior Ministry said. The prime minister, anguished by the low participation, urged voters to turn out for the run-offs March 27.

The opposition Socialists enjoyed the most votes overall with about 25 per cent of votes, according to preliminary results Sunday night from the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy’s UMP party and allied parties had about 32 per cent of votes, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. But French television and rival parties said the UMP itself had less than 20 percent of the vote.

The far right National Front had about 15 per cent of the vote, Gueant said. The party is riding the wave of popularity of its new leader, Marine Le Pen, who has tapped into worries about Muslim immigrants.

Le Pen took the party leadership in January from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, an icon in French politics for decades who worried millions of French voters and neighboring countries when he made it into the runoff in 2002 presidential elections.

Recent opinion surveys have showed Sarkozy’s approval ratings at historic lows. Leftist voters are angry at his cost-cutting measures and say he is too cosy with corporate interests. Many conservatives are disappointed that he has not been bolder about loosening up the labour market and hasn’t eased tensions between police and youth in suburban housing projects.

A win in a cantonal election gives candidates a seat on councils overseeing France’s departments, or provinces.

- AP

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