François Hollande scored a narrow victory in the French presidential election on late Sunday night and now has seven weeks to persuade the world that it can live with the new, Socialist face of France.
President Nicolas Sarkozy became only the second incumbent in half a century to be booted out of the Elysée Palace after a single term.
In a humiliating disavowal of his erratic behaviour and record in office, and his use of divisive far-right themes during the campaign, 51.2 per cent of French voters chose to entrust their destiny to the moderate but inexperienced Hollande.
The President-elect told a cheering crowd in his rural fiefdom of Tulle in south-west France that he wanted to be judged on his capacity to revive the ‘French dream’.
This meant, he said, “fairness to all,” new opportunities for the young and better lives, from one generation to the next.
“Europe is looking at us,” he said. “In many European countries this victory will be received with relief and hope... as a sign that the austerity-only approach to the crisis is not inevitable.”
In a dignified concession speech, soon after congratulating the winner by phone, Sarkozy said that he would now become “an ordinary Frenchman among others”, implying that he intended to retire from politics.
The new French leader — only the second centre-left President in 50 years of French presidential politics — has to hit the ground running. He will attend G8, Nato and European Union summits before the end of next month.
The official count on Sunday night gave Hollande around 51.2 per cent of the nationwide vote — below what the final opinion polls and early estimates had indicated.
Although the turnout was more than 80 per cent, there were an estimated 2,000,000 spoiled ballots, suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with both candidates.
A vast and ecstatic crowd of mostly young Socialist supporters gathered in the Place de la Bastille in central Paris, firing flares, brandishing red roses and waving the French tricolour and red flags.
No wedding bells for new power couple?
Valerie Trierweiler, the partner of Hollande, will become the first unmarried ‘Première Dame’ in history to enter the Elysee Palace on the arm of the country’s most powerful man. The feisty magazine journalist was revealed as Hollande’s lover when he separated from the mother of his four children.
She has voiced concerns at the prospect of losing her independence because of her partner’s new role — and so it seems a wedding is probably the last thing on the to-do list for the new power couple.
‘Normal’ Plan Of Action
The self-declared Monsieur Normal becomes the first Socialist president since his late mentor and boss, François Mitterrand in 1981-88. He has promised budgetary discipline with fairness to reduce the French budget deficit to zero by 2017. He has been specific about new taxes on the rich — including a 75% tax on marginal incomes — but has been less specific about cuts in public spending.
Au revoir Sarkozy
President Sarkozy had hoped until the end to snatch a victory by attracting a large proportion of the 17.9 per cent voters who went to the far right in the first round on April 22. However, Sarkozy said that he accepted “full responsibility for this defeat... I want to wish [Hollande] the best of luck in the challenges that lie ahead.”