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How the tables have turned in French government

When Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party strode to a decisive presidential victory in 2007, it was partly due to the appearance that the opposition Socialists, with all their infighting, lacked a coherent message or a proper vision and that generally they were not up to the task.

With the ruling party’s defeat at the regional polls, where 54 percent of voters chose the Socialists and their allies, like the Europe Ecology Party, it seems the political shoe might now be on the other foot. Prime Minister Francois Fillon was already chastising members of his UMP party last week for presenting less than a united front after the first round of voting became a clear harbinger of defeat. The party went on the defensive, blaming the high abstention rate for last week’s poor showing, even coming up with this mental pretzel of analysis: that if so many voters stayed away from the polls, how can the government know what people really think?

After winning just 35 percent of the regional vote in the second round, the UMP defeat is being chalked up to the economy, and not the divisive debates, hard-line policies and planned reforms that have irked French people and sent them to the street in protest. And the president's position that regional elections do not have national implications might have made some voters wonder why they were casting ballots in the first place if the government didn’t intend to take into consideration what they had to say and make adjustments.

The opposition won the majority in 21 out of 22 of the regional assemblies in mainland France. Time will tell whether it can translate the newfound momentum into a program with real ideas and proposals that extend beyond simply beating back Sarkozy, especially with the 2012 elections in the background.

Meanwhile, let the UMP soul-searching fest begin.