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Will regional poll mean political shake-up?

media Martine Aubry with Greens leader Cecile Duflot and Left Front National … Reuters

In the countdown to this Sunday’s French regional elections runoff, the first secretary of the reinvigorated Socialists, Martine Aubry, has defended her party’s alliances with left-wing groups, which the right  has labelled a "marriage of convenience".

The Socialist Party (PS) is hoping for a regional grand slam after merging its lists with the green alliance, Europe Ecologie, and the smaller Left Front.

Aubry on Friday dismissed accusations from President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP, who point out that her party differs with Europe-Ecologie on policies ranging from a new airport in Nantes, to the Iter experimental nuclear reactor being built in Cadarache.

“Nobody is trying to sweep these disagreements under the carpet,” said Aubry, adding that projects supported by the Socialists had been maintained by the alliance. "I believe it is a very solid alliance.”

France 24 TV on French regional elections

Meanwhile, the UMP, which hopes against hope to avoid a rout on Sunday, on Friday pledged to push ahead with Sarkozy's pension reform - no matter the outcome of the runoff.

“It is absolutely necessary to reform pensions, and it’s necessary to continue to reduce deficits and debt,” said the party’s general secretary, Xavier Bertrand.

“We were elected to reform and, remember, these are regional elections with a regional stake.”

Turnout for round one of the regional elections was a record low 46 per cent of the 44 million eligible voters. This is a far cry from the last regional vote in 2004.

The Socialist-led collaborations will win 56 per cent of the vote nationally, compared with 36 per cent for the UMP, according to a CSA poll published Friday by Le Parisien newspaper.

The UMP is counting on some of the 53.7 per cent who abstained in the first round showing up for the second, with Prime Minister François Fillon urging “voters of the presidential majority to mobilise”.

The UMP currently controls only Alsace, on the German border, and the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where opinion polls say the contest is too close to call.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of round one was the triumph of the anti-immigration National Front, led by firebrand John-Marie Le Pen. Its score of 12 per cent will allow the FN to stay in the race this Sunday in 12 of France’s 22 mainland regions, thus depriving the UMP of precious votes.

Although the score was nnot as impressive as its 14.7 per cent showing in the 2004 regional elections, this week Len Pen wasted no time in celebrating, declaring his victory in a letter to Sarkozy as the “phoenix rising from the ashes”.

The FN, which is near bankrupt, had been written off after its disastrous showing in the 2007 presidential elections.

Undoubtedly the biggest loser of this month’s regional shake-up is François Bayrou’s centrist MoDem, or Democratic Movement, whose vice-president, Corinne Lepage, on Wednesday resigned to work with the greens.

The MoDem was widely hailed as a mould-breaker when it was formed in 2007, after  Bayrou won 18.5 per cent in the first round  of the presidential election and found the Socialists desparate to win his votes in the second.

But the party has failed to live up to predictions that it would abolish the left-right divide. It suffered a wave of defections even before this year's regional poll, with candidates attaching themselves to rival lists in the hope of holding on to their seats.

Scraping together just four per cent of the vote last week, MoDem saw its support base halved from its showing in last June’s European elections. It maintains a presence in just one French region, Aquitaine.

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