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Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2012-04-06

Socialist presidential hopeful François Hollande received a welcome endorsement Wednesday from former rival, and the mother of his four children, Ségolène Royal.

A campaign stop in the city of Rennes, Brittany, gave Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande a boost on Wednesday, when his ex-partner, 2007 presidential socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, gave him a powerful endorsement speech.

The endorsement is a clear signal that Hollande and Royal have patched up their differences after their rumoured acrimonious separation before Royal’s failed 2007 run for the presidency. It was noted in France at the time that Hollande elected to not vocally back or campaign on behalf of Royal.

Organisers were expecting around 10,000 people but by 7pm, when Royal was supposed to be at the podium, thousands more were still waiting outside.

“This is a shambles!” one of the security guards shouted as the crowd outside surged against the barriers and started chanting. In total, some 18,000 people turned up, making Rennes one of the Socialists' biggest campaign rallies yet. As one of the supporters who managed to get inside rightly whispered, “Such a queue can only mean one thing for Hollande... And it's certainly not a bad one!”

Even among the many that were unable to get into the main hall, where Royal and Hollande delivered their speeches, the crowds remained cheerful. “We might not be able to see him from here but at least we can hear him!” declared a group of students from Rennes who had camped out in front of a barrier by the exit.

Supporters came from all over the western region of Brittany to attend the rally, travelling many hours by car, coach or train.

After a shaky few weeks of creeping gains from the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande was in need of a boost in order to secure the top spot in the first round of the election, just 18 days away. At the rally, spirits were running high after Royal's hearty endorsement. “François is our candidate," she told the crowd. "We don’t have a moment to lose…he is the only one who can win on the Left."

Clearly buoyed by her words - if not a little irked by her popularity - Hollande went on to lay out his plan of action for his first three months in office. With his detailed "agenda of change", he promised to freeze fuel prices, slash government salaries by 30 per cent and boost welfare payouts for families. 

The crowd’s enthusiastic response seemed to spur the normally somewhat controlled Hollande on. He even managed to leave time for some Sarkozy-bashing, much to the delight of the crowd. Hollande jibbed, “The man who claims he's the boss of everything... But who's responsible for nothing!” This taunt prompted a chorus of pantomime cheers, boos and whoops from the Brittany crowd.

A Royal affair

When Royal faced off against Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of the 2007 president election, she received a massive 63 per cent of the vote in Rennes. Despite her meagre slice in the Socialist primary vote last October (7 per cent nationwide), she remains hugely popular in Brittany, where she heads the regional council of Poitou-Charentes.

“We've always had a soft spot for Ségolène in Brittany,” 70-year-old pensioner Françoise told FRANCE 24. “But we're happy to support whoever the Socialist party thinks is fit to run against Sarkozy.”

Socialist Party campaigner Jean-Paul agreed, perhaps indicating the party’s awareness that they need to remain unified to win this election after a bruising vote to find the party’s candidate for the presidency and years of fractious political infighting. “Between me and my friends we almost all voted for either Ségolene Royal or Martine Aubry in the Socialist primary, but that doesn't make us anti-Hollande. Quite the contrary! We support the party as a whole,” emphasised Jean-Paul.

As a nod to her popularity in the region, Hollande – who barely mentioned Royal at the start of his campaign – spoke warmly of the mother to his four children. “Ségolène is here as a symbol of unity, a unity that was missing in 2007 and is there now, strong, irreversible.”

Hollande clearly hopes this endorsement will tip the balance in his favour, and thus avoid becoming the party’s fourth failed Socialist presidential candiate in a row.

Date created : 2012-04-05


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