Final runoff of regional poll kicks off in France

19:22, March 22, 2010      

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Jean-Marie Le Pen, France far-right political party leader and Alpes-Maritimes region candidate, casts his vote in the second round regional voting in Saint Cloud near Paris March 21, 2010. French regional elections are set to produce a heavy defeat to the centre-right UMP party in its final ballot box test before the 2012 presidential campaign.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Poll stations in 25 French regions open doors Sunday from 8:00 a.m. local time to tens of millions of voters who are willing to make final decision on which party or ally controls regional councils.
After a historical low participation rate of 48 percent recorded in the first round on last Sunday, one overseas department Guadeloupe has fixed its regional council.

Therefore, in the runoff, there are 1,839 regional councilors needed to be decided for the remained regions, 22 in mainland and three overseas.

The first round result showed that the opposition Socialist party won 29.48 percent of votes while the ruling UMP Party followed with 26.18 percent. The following ranks were taken by European Greens (left) and the right-wing National Front with 12.47 percent and 11.74 percent respectively.

Like the first round, most polls in major cities across the country will close doors at 18:00 local time, while in bigger cities or metropolitans like Rennes, Dijion and Paris, Marseille, constituency can vote before 19:00 and 20:00.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's central-right UMP persisted in calling for more voters for the runoff during the past week, hoping more turnouts can better a potential failure.

However, a public survey by pollster BVA published 48 hours before the final run estimated that the voter turnouts for the runoff would be as low as 45 percent, among which 56 percent expressed favor for the left parties.

Segolene Royal, current president of Poitou-Charentes region and Socialist party candidate for her re-election, casts her ballot in the second round of regional voting in Melle March 21, 2010. The centre-right UMP party faces heavy losses in regional elections on Sunday that could affect the pace of reform as manoeuvring begins before the 2012 presidential campaign.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Given that the opposition Socialist-led left have won 53.5 percent of the votes while the ruling UMP-led right just garnered 39.9 percent in the first round, a potential defeat for the conservatives seems inevitable.

The left parties have pinned their strong advantage by controlling all but two regional councils in last election in 2004, leaving only Alsace and Corsica to the right in mainland France.

Just after first results turned up, the Socialist announced last Tuesday a breakthrough agreement with the Greens and the Left Front, a group of other left-wing parties, in most of the regions to form political alliances, reinforcing its advantage for a "grand slam" in all regions.

Although regional councils just have power over local development like school building and maintenance of regional transport network, the last election before 2012 presidential vote is widely regarded as a referendum and opinion test for Sarkozy's administration.

Sarkozy has made it clear that he wouldn't refresh his ministers no matter what result comes out from the election.

The same survey by BVA nevertheless reflected that 57 percent people held a view that the UMP should reshuffle the cabinet and 37 percent even suggested changing the prime minister.

Source: Xinhua
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