Sunday, May 6, 2012

French Presidential Election: Hollande Defeats Sarkozy, Socialist Returns to Power

France voted in a presidential run-off election on May 6 that could see Socialist challenger Francois Hollande defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy by capitalizing on public anger over the government’s austerity policies.
The election outcome will impact efforts to fight France’s debt crisis, how long the nation’s troops stay in Afghanistan and how France exercises its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.
Sarkozy, punished for his failure to rein in record 10 per cent unemployment and for his brash personal style, is the 11th successive leader in the euro zone to be swept from power since the currency bloc's debt crisis began in 2009.
Jubilant left-wingers celebrated outside Socialist Party headquarters and in Paris' Bastille square, where revelers danced in 1981 when Francois Mitterrand became France's only other Socialist president.

Sarkozy Voted Out
Fifty-seven-year-old Hollande voted in his electoral fief of Tulle, in central France. Live television coverage showed politician shaking hands and chatting with voters on his way into the polling station. He will take office from May 16.
Leftists were overjoyed to have one of their own in power for the first time since Socialist Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.
Sarkozy is the latest victim of a wave of voter anger over spending cuts in Europe that has ousted governments and leaders in the past couple of years.
In Greece, a parliamentary vote on May 6 was seen as critical to the country’s prospects for pulling out of a deep financial crisis felt in world markets. A state election in Germany and local elections in Italy were seen as tests of support for the national governments’ policies.
In France, with 95 per cent of the vote counted, official results showed Hollande with 51.6 per cent of the vote compared with Sarkozy’s 48.4 per cent. The turnout was a strong 81 per cent.

Fall of Strauss-Kahn
Even a year ago, few would have expected to see Socialist candidate Hollande packing his bags for a move into the Elysee Palace.
Former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was seen as all but certain to be the Socialist candidate in the election, until his stunning fall from grace in May after sexual assault charges in New York.
At the time Hollande, a backroom deal-maker who led the Socialists for 11 years, was perhaps best known as the former partner of the party's telegenic 2007 candidate, Segolene Royal.
But he surged ahead during a US-style primary to beat rival Martine Aubry, appealing to the centre-left with with vows to be a consensus-builder, despite his only experience being as a local official in his adopted Correze region.
He has held an opinion poll lead over Sarkozy from the moment of his nomination and -- notwithstanding a few late surges in support for the incumbent -- never fell behind.
A protege of modernizing former European Commission Chairman Jacques Delors, Hollande is of the generation groomed under the only previous Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who left office in 1995.

Next Important Step
Hollande's clear win should give the self-styled "Mr Normal" the authority to press German Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept a policy shift towards fostering growth in Europe to balance the austerity that has fueled anger across southern Europe. His margin also positions the Socialists strongly to win a left-wing majority in parliamentary elections next month, vital to implement his plans for a swift tax reform.
If it wins that two-round election on June 10 and 17, the Socialist Party would hold more levers of power than ever in its
43-year history, with the presidency, both houses of parliament, nearly all regions, and two-thirds of French towns in its hands. Even before the results were declared, cheering crowds gathered at Socialist headquarters to acclaim the party's first presidential victory since Mitterrand's re-election in 1988.
Many waved red flags and some carried roses, the party emblem. In Bastille Square, flashpoint of the 1789 French Revolution and the left's traditional rallying point for protests and celebration, activists began partying two hours before the polls closed.
Hollande has promised more government spending and higher taxes - including a 75-per cent income tax on the rich - and wants to re-negotiate a European treaty on trimming budgets to avoid more debt crises of the kind facing Greece.

Hollande’s Life and Career Graph
Born in 1954 in the northern city of Rouen, Hollande was the son of a doctor with far-right sympathies and of a social worker.
His father later moved the family to Neuilly-sur-Seine, the posh Paris suburb where Sarkozy was also raised.
He was educated at the elite Ecole National d'Administration, where in 1978 he met Royal and the couple started a three-decade relationship.
In 1981, after Mitterrand swept to power, Hollande challenged Jacques Chirac -- who later became French president -- in his parliamentary fiefdom in the rural region of Correze, but lost.
Chirac, who once mocked Hollande as "less well-known than Mitterrand's Labrador", retains affection for his old rival and even said he would vote for the Socialist, though he later passed off his remark as a joke.
Hollande eventually won the seat in 1988 and was reelected in 1997, 2002 and 2007.
In 1997 he took over the Socialist Party leadership, a post he held until 2008 when he was replaced by former Labor Minister Aubry, also the daughter of his former mentor Delors.
Some had pushed for Hollande to take on Sarkozy in the 2007 race but Royal had already emerged as the leading Socialist nominee. The couple, who by then had four children, split before the vote but news of the break-up did not emerge until after Royal's defeat.
Hollande is now in a relationship with political journalist Valerie Trierweiler.
Concerns that Hollande was too mild-mannered and academic to take on Sarkozy disappeared as the race went on and he emerged as a tough campaigner, his speeches sprinkled with dry humor. His performance during the campaign's only face-to-face debate -- when he fended off an increasingly aggressive Sarkozy accusing him of "lies" and "slander" -- was particularly lauded.

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