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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Conservatives Dealt Crushing Blow

PARIS -- In its most impressive electoral showing in a generation, France's left bulldozed its way across France in regional elections with a crushing defeat of President Jacques Chirac's government, which sets the stage for a Cabinet shakeup.

Sunday's victory march by the reborn opposition Socialists and their leftist allies isolated the conservative president with a losing team and an unpopular party midway through his five-year term.

The results jolted the political landscape to its core and amounted to an angry call to the French leadership to change course. Painful reforms instituted to save the social security system from bankruptcy and bring France's budget deficit in line with European Union rules have turned wide swaths of French society against Chirac's governing conservatives.

For Chirac -- who hit a peak in popularity at home as the leading voice against the United States over the Iraq war -- the electoral drubbing for the right has forced him to refocus on his domestic flank.

Radio and television reports referred to a "tidal wave" for the Socialist-led opposition, and some left-leaning newspapers appeared to gloat over the victory.

"The knockout of the right," read a front-page headline on Communist daily L'Humanit?. Left-leaning Lib?ration led its cover with "The beginning of the end" over a photo of a pensive Chirac.

Many political observers were speculating whether he will now fire Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, his comrade-in-arms who has sought to bring about thorny domestic reforms, as part of a widely expected Cabinet shuffle.

Raffarin, whom Chirac lifted from the provinces to the premiership two years ago to carry out the reforms, stood firm.

"The reforms must continue simply because they are necessary," Raffarin insisted Sunday. He defended his government's action, but said he understood the "worry and impatience" that was expressed by voters.

Socialist Party leader Fran?ois Hollande said the victory for the left was the biggest since fellow Socialist Fran?ois Mitterrand won the presidency in 1981. He urged the government to change course entirely -- not simply rejigger its lineup of ministers.

Speaking Monday on French radio, Hollande pinned the blame on Chirac. "What has been condemned is not just the management of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, but a defect of the presidency," he told RTL radio.

The Socialists, combining forces with the Communist Party and the Greens, won 20 out of mainland France's 22 regions, holding onto the eight it already ran and conquering 12 others. Results from four overseas regions were not immediately available.

Conservatives ended the day with only one region secured -- Alsace, in eastern France -- and possibly Corsica. Nineteen of 38 government ministers were candidates in the races -- and all of them lost.

Voters were choosing regional councils that decide issues from building schools to improving public transportation. But the contest was seen as a referendum on Raffarin's increasingly unpopular team.