President Sarkozy meets party leaders after rout at polls

PARIS, France - President Nicolas Sarkozy met party leaders on Sunday to discuss how to respond to a severe defeat in regional elections, in which his majority party was defeated in 21 of 22 mainland regions, retaining a majority only in Alsace.

PARIS, France - President Nicolas Sarkozy met party leaders on Sunday to discuss how to respond to a severe defeat in regional elections, in which his majority party was defeated in 21 of 22 mainland regions, retaining a majority only in Alsace.

The defeat was expected after a first round of voting a week ago, especially after the opposition Socialist Party and its allies made common cause with the Europe Ecology party, running on joint party lists, but it stung nonetheless.

Sarkozy was yesterday scheduled to meet Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who was expected to announce his resignation, but be reappointed as prime minister with a shuffled cabinet as a response to voter unhappiness.

Sarkozy has already said he will slow down the pace of structural changes, concentrating on a needed pension overhaul.

The leader of his party in the National Assembly, Jean-Francois Cope, on Sunday called for a "return to our fundamentals" while recognising "a real defeat" in the regional vote, the last national election before the presidential race of 2012.

The Socialist Party leader, Martine Aubry was happy, praising the vote as "a victory without precedent", while Fillon said in a difficult economic period, "these elections show that the French are worried" about their pensions and other social protections.

But reforms were required to keep the social welfare system solvent, he said, adding: "We do not govern a great country like France according to the rhythm of local elections."

On Sunday night, with about 93 percent of ballots counted, the Socialist Party and its allies had won 54 percent of the overall national vote, according to the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy's party and its allies won 35 percent, and the National Front less than 10 percent. - Reuters

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