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Europe

French Voters Punish Sarkozy in Local Elections

Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party suffered a blow in French municipal elections, losing important conservative strongholds to the left. The Socialists called the results a "vote of hope."

Sarkozy leaves the voting booth on his way to cast his ballot at a polling station in Paris

Voters gave Sarkozy something to think about

Ten months after Nicolas Sarkozy won the presidential election, his UMP party and other conservative allies received around 47.5 percent of votes in municipal elections on Sunday, March 16. The Socialists and the small parties close to them brought home about 49 percent.

The conservatives lost their strongholds of Toulouse and Strasbourg, and upsets in Reims, Amiens and Caen, routed conservatives and centrists from mayoral positions. In Perigueux, Education Minister Xavier Darcos lost his bid for reelection as mayor by around 100 votes.

Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, center, surrounded by his staff

Paris' mayor comfortably held on to his position

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a Socialist, handily won reelection with 57.7 percent of the vote. The left-wing mayor of Lyon also defended his seat.

Still, France's second city, Marseille, remained in conservative hands, with the reelection of UMP Mayor Jean Claude Gaudin.

Segolene Royal, the Socialist presidential candidate Sarkozy defeated last May, called Sunday's results "a vote of hope." Socialist leaders said the government should respond to voters' dissatisfaction by abandoning "unjust" reforms.


Image makeover pending?

But Prime Minister Francois Fillon said there would be no change of direction.

"You can't change a great country like ours in a few months," Fillon said in a televised statement. "Tenacity is needed to reform."

Polls indicate that the French are pessimistic about the country's economic situation and think Sarkozy is too distracted by his personal life to do his job. In the past half year, he took time for a whirlwind divorce from his second wife, Cecilia, and a brief courtship and marriage to former model Carla Bruni.

Carla Bruni und Sarkozy

Some in France said Sarkozy spent more time thinking about Bruni than the country

Observers expect Sarkozy to attempt an image makeover, with changes to his communications team and new faces in government to be announced Tuesday.

Sarkozy's approval rating has plummeted from 67 percent, in July, to around one-third of the electorate since he was triumphantly voted into office, in May, on a pledge to overhaul France's economy and curb rising costs.

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