President Nicolas Sarkozy is playing down the importance of the first round of French regional elections after his UMP took a drubbing.
His Prime Minister François Fillon remained on message, dismissing the strong showing of the opposition Socialists.
“It’s still wide open because no one party can lay claim to the electors. Next Sunday they will have to chose a team and an issue for their region,” said Fillon.
But Socialist leader Martine Aubrey was having none of that. The Left took 29.3 percent of the votes, three percentage points ahead of the UMP.
“The French largely voted for the Left,” Aubrey said, “and they put the Socialist Party on top of it. Today they expressed their rejection of a divided France, of a fearful, waning one, and they expressed instead their will for a stronger and a fairer France.”
Both the Greens and the far-right did surprisingly well, with the ecologists taking over 12 percent and the National front just behind on 11.7 percent.
What is at stake is who will run France’s 26 regions and thereby help or hinder much promised presidential reforms.
The elections are also a mid-term verdict on Sarkozy’s two years in power. But with fewer than 47 percent of voters bothering to cast their ballots, apathy appears to be the main winner.