Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

French regional polls may step up pressure on Sarkozy

Elections posters in Paris
Socialists expect to maintain their gains in the second round

French voters are voting in the final round of regional elections.

In the first round a week ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party received one of its lowest scores in decades.

The UMP won just over a quarter of the vote, while the opposition Socialists, combined with other Leftist parties, took 50%.

A poll now suggests that 57% of people would like to see a change of government after these regional polls.

Although these elections are meant to be about regional issues such as public transport, high unemployment and resentment over plans to reform several sectors including the judicial and pension systems have prompted many French people to use their ballot to punish the government.

In the first round ballot less than half of France bothered to vote - and that cost President Sarkozy's right-wing party dearly.

President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni vote in the second round of the French regional elections

At about midday on Sunday, nearly 19% of France's 44 million registered voters had cast their ballots, up slightly from the turnout at the same time a week ago.

Many people are angry that Mr Sarkozy's election promises - to make ordinary people richer and to make France more competitive - have failed to come good, says the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris.

With three million people currently out of work, France is now suffering its highest level of unemployment in decades, while a series of unpopular reforms has prompted numerous strikes and protest over recent months.

Mr Sarkozy has suggested the possibility of a pause in the pace of reforms after the elections. He may also reshuffle his cabinet, some analysts have said.

The opposition Socialists, who already control 20 out of the French mainland's 22 regional councils, have paired up with other Leftists parties and Europe Ecologie - the Greens - for the second round and look certain to keep their lead.

The governing party has been further weakened by a strong showing for the far-right National Front party, despite efforts by the UMP to attract their voters with hard-line policies on immigration and law and order.

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