Sarkozy's party faces poll defeat

First round of regional elections suggests that the leading centre-right party will lose out to Soci

The first round of regional elections in France indicated that Nicolas Sarkozy's party would be heading for defeat.

Initial results suggested that the opposition Socialist Party has taken a strong lead.

With more than 80 per cent of votes counted for the councils that run the 22 regions of mainland France and Corsica, the Socialists held 53.6 per cent of the vote. Sarkoxy's centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has 39.6 per cent.

The National Front is expected to receive up to 12 per cent of the vote, more than anticipated.

These results will be a major blow for Sarkozy in the last poll before the presidential and parliamentary elections take place in 2012.

The president downplayed the losses, which were expected, saying that the election was only about regional issues.

However, his popularity rating is at an all time low, and unemployment is currently 10 per cent. He said last week that, next year, he will slow his programme of economic and social reforms.