Hollande ousts Sarkozy in French presidential vote

Left-wing candidate François Hollande has defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's runoff, becoming the first Socialist to win a French presidential election since François Mitterrand in 1988.


French socialist François Hollande won France’s presidential election on Sunday, with thousands of his supporters rallying across the country to celebrate the left’s return to the Elysée Palace after almost two decades out of office.

France’s Interior Ministry said the left-wing candidate claimed around 51.62% of the runoff vote to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy’s 48.38%, with turnout at 81.34%.

In a victory speech in the central town of Tulles, where he once served as mayor, Hollande said he would be a president for all French people. “We are not a France divided, we are one single France, all united in the same destiny,” he told his supporters.

The president-elect then flew to Paris to join a huge crowd gathered on the iconic Place de la Bastille, the same spot where the last Socialist to win a presidential election, François Mitterrand, celebrated his first victory back in 1981.

Thousands of people also converged on the headquarters of the Socialist Party in central Paris.

“I travelled by myself all the way from [the northwest city of] Caen to be here,” Emma, a 17-year-old student, told FRANCE 24. “I didn’t want to miss this moment. I fought hard to help François Hollande win."

The Socialists and their left-wing allies will be hoping to keep the momentum going as they bid to win back a majority in parliament in next month's legislative polls.

Sanctioning Sarkozy

In pictures: François Hollande's supporters celebrate in Paris

On Sunday, Sarkozy became only the second French president to fail to claim a second mandate since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was swept out of office in 1981.

The incumbent president conceded defeat in a speech to supporters in Paris shortly after polls closed at 8pm local time. “I have telephoned François Hollande to congratulate him and wish him good luck,” he said. 

But in a thinly veiled jab that reflected the bitter tone of the campaign, Sarkozy urged supporters to "respect" Hollande, before adding: "we will never be like those who fought against us".

According to a survey by Ipsos polling institute, half of Hollande’s voters said their first reason for voting for the left-wing candidate was to oust Sarkozy.

The same survey found that 35% of people who voted for far-right candidate Marineblank ballots or abstained in the runoff, depriving Sarkozy of crucial support from the right.

The latest in a long list of incumbents ousted during Europe's debt crisis, the French president had consistently trailed his Socialist rival in opinion polls, at times by as much as 10%.

Vincent Callius, a Sarkozy supporter in Paris, said he had believed in a win despite the negative odds.

“Sarkozy was voted out more for his style than for his actions. François Hollande does not have a suitable programme for this country and the economic crisis is going to become a whole lot worse under him,” he said.

Rolling up his sleeves

Sunday's election marked the end of a year-long campaign for Hollande, who won his party’s internal primaries in October of last year and came out on top in the first round of the poll on April 22.

Hollande has promised to add 60,000 new staff to the state education system, reduce the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers, and balance the country’s budget by the end of his five-year mandate.

But Europe's continuing debt woes are likely to top his agenda in the coming weeks, with crisis-weary nations hoping France's president-elect can persuade Germany to ease its austerity drive.

“It’s now my mission to give Europe a measure of growth, employment, prosperity,” Hollande said in Tulles. “That is what I will tell our European partners as soon as possible, and starting with Germany, in the name of the friendship that unites us and the responsibility we share.”

Having openly backed Sarkozy during the campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she had congratulated Hollande and invited him to Berlin.

Earlier, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said overcoming the debt crisis was a common objective for both countries. “We have agreed on a fiscal treaty for less debt and we will now jointly draft a growth pact that will create more growth alongside greater competivity,” he said at the French embassy in Berlin.

Hollande is due to be sworn in as France’s president on May 15.

His first meeting with US President Barack Obama and other heads of state is likely to take place on May 18 at a gathering of the G8 leading industrialized countries in the United States.

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