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Socialists poised for big win in French local elections


Paris : Early estimates based on exit polls in a number of French cities suggest that the opposition Socialists handed President Nicolas Sarkozy a stinging defeat in Sunday’s local run-off elections.

According to estimates by the TNS-Sofres, Socialist challengers defeated conservative mayors in the politically important cities of Toulouse and Strasbourg.

Socialists also ousted right-wing incumbents in the cities of Reims, Amiens, Saint-Etienne, Caen, Blois and Quimper.

In addition, Education Minister Xavier Darcos conceded that he lost his mayor’s post in Perigeux, despite the fact that Prime Minister Francois Fillon made a special effort to boost his candidacy.

Socialist former Labour Minister Martine Aubry was re-elected mayor of Lille with some 66 percent of the vote, while former centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou was narrowly defeated by his Socialist opponent in the southwestern city of Pau.

According to estimates by several polling institutes, fewer than two out of three registered voters cast their ballots Sunday, the lowest-ever turnout for French local elections.

Fillon declared that, despite the setback, “we will pursue our policies” of reform.

It is unlikely that Sarkozy will shake up his government as a result of the vote less than four months before France takes over the presidency of the European Union.

The daily Le Monde reported that Sarkozy’s plunge in the polls has already led to a change in the way the president conducts himself.

On his recent trip to South Africa, gone were the designer sunglasses in which Sarkozy had been frequently photographed. In addition, his jogging outfit and ostentatious wristwatch have virtually vanished from his public appearances.

Sarkozy and his ex-model wife, Carla Bruni, have also disappeared from the covers of the glamour magazines they dominated for months.

“He has been forced to adapt,” one of his advisors told Le Monde.

But a leader of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) said it remained to be seen “if Sarkozy will have the force of character to persist in his metamorphosis”.