French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right party faces heavy losses in regional elections on Sunday that could affect the pace of reform as manoeuvring begins before the 2012 presidential campaign.
The centre-right suffered one of its worst losses in years in the first round, with Sarkozy’s UMP party scoring 26 per cent compared to 29 per cent for the Socialists and 50 per cent for leftist parties combined.
High abstention levels, which saw more than one in two voters stay home, and a surge in support for the far-right National Front, which won 12 per cent, underlined the gloomy message for the government ahead of the final runoff.
The second round of voting kicked off on Sunday morning and was expected to run into the evening. A relatively high abstention rate of 55 per cent could be expected, according to some polls. Fears about job losses, immigration and security, as well as resentment about issues such as bank bailouts have fed attacks on Sarkozy.
The president’s popularity has dived since he won plaudits for his energetic handling of the financial crisis in 2008.
He has already promised a pause in reform next year and a heavy loss in the last midterm election before 2012 could make him more cautious about pushing potentially painful cuts in the big projects which remain in 2010.