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Hollande to face Sarkozy in 2012 presidential election

François Hollande won the French Socialist Party's presidential primary on Sunday, beating his party rival Martine Aubry with nearly 57 percent of the vote. Hollande will now face Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential elections.


AP - Partial results Sunday showed France’s former Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande leading in the party’s presidential primary run-off. The winner is expected to have a showdown with embattled conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s election.

The vote for the main opposition party’s nominee comes at a time when many French citizens worry about high state debt, cuts to education spending, anemic economic growth and lingering unemployment.

With 1.9 million votes counted after Sunday’s voting, the Socialist Party said 56.4 percent of the ballots were for Hollande and 43.6 percent for Martine Aubry, who had succeeded Hollande as Socialist Party leader.

The victorious François Hollande

Aubry quickly conceded defeat. She had sought to be France’s first female president.

“I warmly congratulate Francois Hollande, who is clearly ahead. His victory is unquestionable,” said Aubry, also famed for authoring France’s 35-hour workweek law.

The bespectacled Hollande, 57, is a party moderate who was the longtime partner of the Socialists’ last presidential candidate, Segolene Royal. More a behind-the-scenes consensus-builder than a visionary, Hollande is seen by many as a welcome contrast to the tough-talking, hard-driving Sarkozy.

The party estimates that more than 2.7 million people voted in Sunday’s run-off. In the first round of the primary last Sunday, more than 2.6 million voters reduced a six-person field to the two finalists.

Recent polls suggest Hollande could easily beat Sarkozy in the presidential election next spring, if Sarkozy seeks a second five-year term, as is widely expected.

The incumbent’s favorability ratings have hovered near the 30-percent level for months, but he is a strong campaigner and senses a rightward-majority tilt in the French electorate.

Early this year, most polls showed that the Socialists’ best hope for toppling Sarkozy was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who led the International Monetary Fund until he was jailed in May in the United States on charges he tried to rape a New York hotel maid. Prosecutors later dropped the case, but Strauss-Kahn’s reputation and presidential ambitions came crashing down.

The U.S.-styled primary, the first of its kind in France, has been designed in part to help Socialists overcome years of dissension in their ranks. It was open to voters beyond those in the party, though some conditions apply.

Hollande, the top vote-getter in the first round, received expressions of support from all four candidates who lost out last Sunday - a tacit sign that their top priority is getting a long-awaited Socialist victory in the presidential election.

Royal - who ran against Hollande, the father of her four children, in the first round - hailed Sunday’s early result, saying it conferred “great legitimacy that the right cannot question.”

Starting with Charles de Gaulle in 1958, France has had a string of conservative presidents over the past half-century, but only one Socialist: Francois Mitterrand.

Both Aubry and Hollande say trimming state debt is a priority, but have kept to Socialist party dogma on issues such as shielding citizens from the whims of the financial markets and raising taxes on the rich.

The party’s nominee will face questions about how to keep France competitive at a time when sluggish growth has reined in state spending and emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil keep booming.

Hollande is little-known outside of France and has provided no dramatic proposals for saving the euro, shrinking debts, solving tensions with immigrants or other French woes.

“There’s no cause for celebration: This is just the third quarter," said Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Socialist leader in the National Assembly. "Now, the presidential election begins.”

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In Paris’ touristic and bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, voters streamed steadily into one polling station at an elementary school near the Sacre Coeur basilica. Several said their priority was unseating Sarkozy, but personality and gender also counted. 

“It’d be great to have a woman president,” said Michelle Joly, 44, an unemployed former human resources director, who voted for Aubry. “The programs of Aubry and Hollande are a bit ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other.’ And in fact. I’d probably have more negative things to say about Aubry, but I still voted for her.”

Joly’s husband, Jean Audouard, however, voted for Hollande.

“I like his ability to unite, his humor, and feel he’s less left-leaning than Martine Aubry: I’m center-left,” said the 50-year-old school director, while agreeing that the incumbent president needs to go.

“I think Sarkozy isn’t suited to France today - he’s not a unifier at a time when we need cohesion,” he added. “I think Francois Hollande is good. He is a bit soft but he’s really nice, and quite funny - and that counts.”


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