Sarkozy's party defeated in regional elections

Socialist party leader lauds "unprecedented victory" for left-wing alliance.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party has been heavily defeated in the regional elections.

Over 97 per cent of the votes have now been counted. The opposition left-wing alliance, led by socialists and ecologists, has 52 per cent of the vote, while the centre-right UMP has just 35 per cent.

This leaves the UMP in control of just one of France's 22 regions, Alsace in the east.

Prime minister Francois Fillon is expected to offer his resignation. "I assume my share of the responsibility," he said.

Socialist party leader Martine Aubry said: "The French people have tonight given an unprecedented victory to the alliance of the left.

"[They have] expressed their rejection of the policies of the president and his government."

The elections are the last major electoral test in France before the presidential election in 2012. Although the election was on local governance, some commentators have viewed it as a referendum on Sarkozy's leadership. His approval ratings are currently at an all-time low.

Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant said that the president would embark on a "modest reshuffle" following the results.