- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

PARIS | France’s opposition Socialists and their allies handily defeated President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives in regional elections Sunday, according to partial official results after a vote that helps set the stage for the 2012 presidential race.

With 80.2 percent of ballots counted, the Socialist Party and its allies won 53.7 percent of the overall national vote, according to the Interior Ministry. Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and its allies won 35.2 percent, and the far right National Front 10 percent, the ministry said.

With region-by-region results still coming in, it looked close to the “grand slam” the Socialists were hoping for. Official results showed the conservatives holding on to Alsace but losing control of Corsica. Those were the only two regions run by the right going into the vote, and two closely watched races.

Frustration over Mr. Sarkozy’s handling of the stumbling economy was high on many voters’ minds during Sunday’s runoff vote. Socialists and like-minded parties also dominated the first-round voting a week ago.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, looking sober, acknowledged the conservatives’ defeat even before the partial official results were released.

“These elections show that the French are worried” about reforms to their pensions and other social protections, he said.

The conservatives’ discomfort was evident. UMP chief Xavier Bertrand and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde were visibly grimacing on postelection talk shows.

The Socialists, after years divided and drifting, were buoyant, and looking ahead to the 2012 vote.

“The French have spoken, they must be listened to,” said Socialist leader Martine Aubry.

The Socialists were boosted by alliances with far-left parties and especially with Europe Ecologie, a grouping of green parties seeing growing popularity amid voter concern about global warming.

The far-right National Front experienced a comeback with the regional elections, with OpinionWay projecting an overall score of 17.5 percent in the 12 regions where the party made it into Sunday’s runoff. The party’s strongest showing came in the Riviera region, home to leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the Nord-Pas de Calais region where his daughter and possible successor Marine is an increasingly prominent voice.

The elections determine control of regional councils concerned with local issues. France has 26 regions, 22 counting the mainland and Corsica, as well as four overseas, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean.

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