Socialists choose Hollande to face Sarkozy in 2012
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Left-wing voters chose François Hollande (pictured) to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election Sunday, with over 56 per cent voting for the Socialist moderate against 43 per cent for “old-school” rival Martine Aubry (right).
François Hollande won the second round of the Socialist primary Sunday, making him the leading opponent against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election. More than 2.8 million voters turned up to over 900 voting stations across the country for the run-off between the two leading candidates.
With about two-thirds of votes counted, Hollande had won a resounding 56 percent of the vote against his rival Martine Aubry.
Despite having never held a national government post, 57-year-old Hollande also managed to win the backing of the four defeated first round candidates. Head of the Socialist Party from 1997 to 2008, he’s the ex-partner of defeated 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, with whom he had four children.
Defeated former Labour minister and Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry is considered an “old-school” Socialist, as the architect of France's 35-hour working week and daughter of the former European Commission President Jacques Delors.
Despite mounting a tough campaign, she failed to convince voters that Hollande was a soft centrist who would easily be beaten by Sarkozy.
“By constantly labelling Hollande a centrist, Aubry marginalised the average voter,” says FRANCE 24 politics editor Roselyne Febvre. “She talked too much to the far-left, and not enough to the French people. Hollande on the other hand, really knew how to play the media, and so had a direct link to a wider audience.”
Febvre says that Aubry made a big mistake in targeting Hollande over the past week. “While Aubry was busy attacking Hollande, he made his rival Sarkozy, which is what the French left was clamouring to see,” she added. “It really paid off.”
Hollande, who rides a scooter to work, has cut a down-to-earth and upbeat figure on the campaign trail. The Socialist candidate has pledged to be a "normal" president, in contrast to the flashy, impulsive style that rapidly earned Sarkozy the name "President Bling Bling" after he won power in 2007.
Sarkozy, who has held one five-year term after 12 years of fellow conservative Jacques Chirac, is largely expected to seek a second term, but has yet to declare his re-election bid.
Sarkozy in the crosshair
In the last days of the primary contest, Hollande toughened his criticism of banks and financial markets as he came under pressure to appeal to a large chunk of voters who backed anti-globalisation hardliner Arnaud Montebourg in the opening round.
With Hollande as their candidate, the Socialists promise to scrap 50 billion euros of Sarkozy-engineered tax breaks - money they say will be used to fund state jobs, promote growth and cut the country’s enormous deficit.
Hollande also proposes recruiting 60,000 state-employed school teachers if elected in a reversal of staff cuts under Sarkozy but has also gone to lengths to say he is no spend-happy leftist, vowing to reduce France's public deficit.
Leaders of Sarkozy’s ruling UMP dismiss the policies as a throw-back to the 1980s, but recent polls consistently show that French voters are ready to return a Socialist to the Elysée Palace for the first time in 17 years.
Until six months ago, it was believed that former IMF chief and then-frontrunner Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be the man to do it. But in May this year, he was shamed out of the race by sex crime allegations. The charges have since been dropped.
The ease with which the remaining candidates filled his shoes suggests that many voters are simply weary of Sarkozy and his economic policies.
An initiative that paid off
The primary is the first of its kind in France, where presidential candidates have traditionally been selected by party members only.
It was initially denounced as unconstitutional by some UMP members – including Sarkozy – but more recently, others including French Prime Minister Françis Fillon have grudgingly acknowledged its success, suggesting that they should carry out their own in 2017. “The party would have held their own,” Hollande ally André Vallini told FRANCE 24 Sunday, “if Sarkozy was strong enough to handle them.”
Much to the anger of the right-wing, the initiative failed to result in an injurious catfight between the Socialists, save for Aubry’s recent attacks on Hollande.
Pierre Moscovici, who coordinated Hollande’s campaign, told French news channel BFM Sunday that “there was no battle, there was a confrontation,” insisting that Aubry’s accusations would soon be forgotten.
On Friday, Aubry conceded defeat and in a brief address pledged to “invest all strength and energy to ensure that he [François Hollande] is the president of France seven months from now”.