Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, a 57-year-old MP from rural Corrèze and “self-styled Mr. Normal,” won 51.9% of the vote in a run-off election and is France’s next president. Center-right incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy has now become the eleventh European leader to fall from power during the economic crisis.
Speaking in Tulle, the capital of Corrèze, Hollande declared that he will be the “president of all France.”
Hollande’s victory is a triumph for the left, at a time when European politics have drifted to the right and xenophobic sentiments have grown during four years of economic crisis. In his concession speech, Sarkozy said that the “French public has made its choice.” Urging his supporters not to jeer Hollande, he said that he took “sole responsibility” for the loss and said that he had already telephoned Hollande and wished him good luck amid “difficult challenges.”
In April, Hollande won by about a half a million votes in the first round of the election, taking 28.6 % of the vote toSark ozy’s 27.2 %.
On Sunday night, a gathering of supporters of the Union for a Popular Movement, Sarkozy’s center-right party, at the Place de la Concorde was cancelled. Daily Telegraph reporter Bruno Westerfield said on Twitter that Sarkozy supporters were indeed ”told to go home” two hours before the polls closed at 8pm CEST. Grainne McCarthy, the Paris bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, tweeted that she spotted a worker preparing for a possible Sarkozy celebration who was wearing a Hollande t-shirt that read “Just doing my job and we live in a democracy.”
Meanwhile, Hollande’s supporters filled the Rue de Solferino, where the Socialist Party’s headquarters are based. Hours before the official results were announced, they had filled the Place de la Bastille, the emblematic site of the 1789 revolution. France’s last Socialist president was Francois Mitterand, who was re-elected in 1988. The right has held the presidency since Jacques Chirac’s victory in 1995.
Voter turnout was 80 – 81%, says Le Soir, lower than in 2007, when abstention was 15%, a point noted by conservative newspaper Le Figaro, which is running a prominent article on the “long and rich political career” of Sarkozy, who has been in politics for 35 years. His political future is unclear; in his concession speech, Sarkozy said that he would become a ”Frenchman among the French.”
Sarkozy, who has served one term in office and has been viewed as the “president of the rich” by many, is the most unpopular French president ever to run for re-election. Elected in 2007 with a “huge mandate” to change the country, Sarkozy will leave office with an uncertain legacy, says Angelis Chrisafis in the Guardian. Over 2.8 million are unemployed; Sarkozy has been routinely criticized for giving preferential treatment to the rich and for his displays of his own personal wealth.
Even more, Hollande’s victory is sure to occasion a change in Europe’s approach to austerity measures to address the debt crisis. He will take office without any “state of grace,” to lead a country with record unemployment nearing 10%, declining industry, a huge trade deficit and massive public debt — the Guardian describes it as “so high that interest repayments alone account for the second highest state expenditure after education.” Hollande has claimed that he will raise taxes for those making more than a million euros a year and for large corporations, while hiring 60,000 more teachers in the school system and raising the minimum wage.
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