Socialists Lead in Early Voting in France

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Socialists Lead in Early Voting in France

Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:58 pm

March 14, 2010
Socialists Lead in Early Voting in France
By STEVEN ERLANGER and KATRIN BENNHOLD

PARIS — The governing party of President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be beaten by the opposition Socialists on Sunday in a first round of regional elections marked by a record abstention, according to partial official results released Sunday night.

The results point to a resounding defeat for the center-right in the final round next Sunday, the last nationwide vote before presidential elections in 2012.

While Mr. Sarkozy is damaged by the vote and his main opponents are heartened by it, the Socialist Party remains deeply divided about its policies and its leadership, with no clear presidential candidate at this stage.

Mr. Sarkozy has tried to play down the election as “regional voting, regional consequences,” but he has already indicated that he intends to slow the pace of his reforms and is likely to have at least a minor cabinet reshuffle.

Fewer than half of French voters went to the polls, indicating a wide indifference about the importance of the regional vote and undermining the claim by the opposition of a wave of anger at Mr. Sarkozy.

What struck French analysts was the good performance of a coalition of green parties, known as Europe Ecology, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and the revival of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front, which was running almost even with the ecologists for third place.

Mr. Sarkozy failed to take many votes from the National Front, which had been part of his strategy and was why, some analysts suggested, he had kicked off a national “debate” on the French identity and had begun moves to ban the full facial veil of Muslim women in France.

Results released by the Interior Ministry with about 80 percent of the votes counted showed the Socialists and their allies, who already control 20 of the 22 regions of mainland France, winning about 29 percent of the vote. Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement had 26 percent to 27 percent. Europe Ecology had 11.6 percent, while the National Front had 11.7 percent. The so-called third party of the Democratic Movement was trailing badly with 4.3 percent of the vote, behind a far-left party.

Whether the Socialists will succeed in their aim to win a clean sweep of the mainland’s regions will not be known until after a second and final ballot next Sunday, when parties that obtained at least 10 percent in the first round will face off individually or in coalitions.

Turnout was estimated to be around 48 percent of France’s 44 million eligible voters, a record low and a sharp drop from the roughly 60 percent who voted in 2004.

“We had massive abstention — that is, an absolute record,” said Jean-François Copé, a leader of Mr. Sarkozy’s parliamentary group, urging voters on the right to turn out in greater numbers next Sunday. Supporters of Mr. Sarkozy on television debates all urged that the “triumphalism” of the left be tempered by the record voter abstention.

Mr. Sarkozy has also been criticized for trying to halve the number of elected officials on the local and regional level. He has argued that their responsibilities overlap and that they are a major burden on government spending.

The Socialist leader Martine Aubry praised the vote and urged supporters to come out again next Sunday “to give a win to hope” that Mr. Sarkozy could be defeated in 2012. Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, a Socialist, called it “an excellent halftime for the Socialists,” saying that voters wanted to show their displeasure with Sarkozy policies. He said the high rate of abstention showed that Mr. Sarkozy could not motivate his own base in the face of economic crisis and record unemployment.

The National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, said: “The National Front was declared beaten, dead, buried by the president. This shows that it is still a national force, and probably destined to become greater and greater.”

It has not been a pretty campaign, with charges of racial and ethnic insults superseding regional policy issues like school and road maintenance, transportation services, hospitals, and the shape of the future Paris.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Sarkozy rejected the notion that the ballot was a midterm referendum on his government. But with a total of 20 ministers and junior ministers running, even officials in his own camp privately admitted that the national dimension could not be ignored.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/world ... rance.html
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