Sarkozy's UMP reeling from local election defeat

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Sarkozy's UMP reeling from local election defeat

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President Sarkozy’s UMP party is in turmoil after predictably bad local election results, barely a year before France chooses its next president.

The ruling centre-right took a drubbing on Sunday, winning just 20 percent of the vote.

Neither are the opposition Socialists crowing after coming top with 35 percent.

A record abstention rate – more than half the electorate – is seen as evidence of widespread disillusionment with mainstream parties.

The far right National Front won 11 percent, despite being absent in most seats.

“The National Front has clearly made progress,” said Frédéric Dabi of the IFOP polling institute. “Admittedly it has few elected members but its rise shows that the ‘front républicain’ (the mainstream’s strategy of attempting to shut out the National Front) has perhaps had its day.”

Opinion polls continue to suggest that National Front party leader Marine Le Pen may follow in her father’s footsteps and qualify for the presidential run-off.

Some observers say Sarkozy’s highlighting of Islam and integration as key themes plays into her hands.