Sarkozy's conservative party has lost ground to the Left-wing opposition and the far-right in local polls [GALLO/GETTY]

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has suffered setback in the first round of nationwide local elections.

Sarkozy's conservatives lost ground to the left-wing opposition and the far-right in the local elections on Sunday, according to initial estimates.

The decisive second round of the departmental elections for some 2,000 local councillors will be held on March 27.

Projections broadcast by LCI television based on partial results, showed the Socialist-led left-wing opposition winning about 25 per cent of the vote, with Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party set to take 16 per cent.

The far-right National Front was set to corner around 14 per cent.

It was the last popular vote before next year''s presidential election, in which Sarkozy is expected to seek a second five-year term.

The abstention rate in Sunday's poll was expected to exceed 50 per cent according to the interior ministry.

An opinion poll on Wednesday indicated that Sarkozy would be knocked out in the first round of a presidential election.

Opinion polls put current International Monetary Fund head and Socialist Party member Dominique Strauss-Kahn neck-and-neck with Le Pen, or with the socialist slightly ahead in the presidential.

The Socialist Party wants the local elections to be about voters punishing Sarkozy and his party for their policies as well as a springboard for the presidential election early next year.

The vote can "tell Nicolas Sarkozy that we no longer support the impasse down which he''s taking the country, which is an economic and social impasse, but also a great moral crisis," Martine Aubry, Socialist Party leader, said.

Source: Agencies