Voting to elect France’s 1,880 regional councillors opened at 8am local time on Sunday with a low turnout expected.
If opinion polls are to be believed, the abstention rate is the only factor which can prevent the Socialists and their allies taking control of all 26 regional councils. They already controlled 24 and hope to capture Alsace and Corsica from the right.
“Enthusiasm has deserted the majority camp,” comments RFI’s Patrice Biancone. “It is awaiting the result as a punishment that has already been announced with a good dose of resignation, guilt and anger against the supreme leader who since 2007 has imposed a forced march which has proved counterproductive on the electoral plane.”
With criticism of his personalised steamroller style of government in his own party’s ranks, Sarkozy has told Le Figaro Magazine, that there will be a “pause” in his reform programme in 2011, after changes to the pension system later this year.
“Not so long ago the UMP imagined that it could definitively fix the Socialists’ image as old-fashioned and present itself as the personification of renewal by harping on the theme of badly-run regions, adepts of raising taxes and largely responsible for the public deficit,” comments Biancone.
But with defeat staring the right in the face, the campaign descended into invective and insult, he says. In one region on the outskirts of Paris, for example, UMP leaders were forced to apologise after slandering a black Socialist.
In fact, the campaign has allowed Socialist leader Martine Aubry to improve her standing with voters, shrugging off accusations of lack of finesse and charisma to assert some authority over her divided party.
Although the result of next week’s second round is likely to be good news for the Socialists, they can only pull off victory thanks to their allies.
Polls put the party neck and neck with the UMP at 30 per cent. But its traditional allies on the left are expected to do well. In particular, the main Green alliance, Europe-Ecologie, is hoping to win 12-15 per cent of the votes.