Local poll results deal blow to Sarkozy

Local poll results deal blow to Sarkozy

( Reuter )- France's opposition Socialists secured strong gains in second round local elections on Sunday, opinion polls said, dealing a blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy and his 10-month-old government.

The polls suggested leftist candidates had wrenched control of a number of towns and cities from the centre-right, including Caen, Amiens and Reims in the north of France, and Perigueux in the south.

There was no immediate sign if Sarkozy's allies had managed to hold onto the two main prizes within the left's grasp -- the southern cities of Marseille and Toulouse. If the right loses these votes it will represent a severe setback for Sarkozy.

Initial reaction from the two sides reflected the early signs. "I can't say I'm satisfied this evening," Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand, one of the architects of Sarkozy's 2007 presidential triumph told TF1 television.

Socialist leader Francois Hollande was upbeat and said voters had delivered a message that Sarkozy would have to heed.

"This evening the left is leading in terms of the number of votes cast and the number of towns it runs," he said. "If the left does indeed have a majority ... the president has to change the policies he has been pursuing for the last 10 months."

The election has come at a bad moment for Sarkozy, whose own ratings have plunged because of voter anger over the high cost of living and his glitzy personal life. He has promised to act on the local vote but is not expected to ditch his reform plans.

Chastened by the surveys, Sarkozy has played little role in campaigning and although many of the election issues are local, the result is likely to have a national impact, forcing a change in the tone if not the substance of his restless presidency.

"Once the definitive results are in after the second round, all political leaders, myself first of all, will have to draw the lessons from the election," said Sarkozy, who has lost his aura of self-confidence after just 10 months in office.

Political sources suggest the president will announce a limited cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, possibly creating a handful of new posts, including a secretary of state to oversee the development of the greater Paris region.

He will almost certainly leave his main ministers in place and instead shake up his team at the Elysee Palace, with speculation that his spokesman David Martinon faces the axe following a botched campaign to become mayor of a Paris suburb.

In the first round last weekend, opposition leftist parties won 48 percent of the overall vote against 41 percent for the centre-right, making gains in town halls around the country but failing to impose any shock defeats on Sarkozy and his allies.

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