French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suffered a setback as his governing UMP party trailed behind the Socialists in the first-round of regional elections.
Exit polls indicate the left-wing opposition gained almost 30 percent of Sunday’s vote, while the centre-right UMP picked up close to a 27 percent.
But perhaps the biggest winners were those who stayed away from the poll booths: over half of French cast no ballot at all.
“I think the Socialist Party won back some of their core voters,” said one man. “I also think even if just half of France voted, it’s still a snub to the UMP and the government. It’s a good way of getting some balance.”
“With so many abstentions, we have to ask why we still bother with elections,” said another voter. “One in every two French people doesn’t care about politics.”
The far-right National Front also did well, pulling in some 12 percent of votes cast.
Sarkozy’s approval ratings are at an all-time low as voters fret over immigration and jobs.
Unemployment stands at 10 percent, which is putting France’s already-stretched public finances under further pressure.
The second and final round will be held on March 21.