French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy plans to waste no time pushing through a weighty package of pro-market, anti-crime reforms -- but his first battle is winning control of parliament in new elections next month.
Sarkozy defeated Socialist Segolene Royal by 53.06 percent to 46.94 percent with about an 84 percent voter turnout on Sunday, final results released early yesterday showed.
The win gave Sarkozy a strong mandate for his vision of France's future: He wants to free up labor markets, calls France's 35-hour work week absurd and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration.
"The people of France have chosen change," Sarkozy told cheering supporters in a victory speech that sketched out a stronger global role for France and renewed partnership with the US.
Exit polls offered some surprises. Some 49 percent of blue-collar workers -- traditionally leftist voters -- chose Sarkozy, according to an Ipsos/Dell poll. Forty-four percent of people of modest means voted for him, as did 32 percent of people who usually vote for the Greens and 14 percent who normally support the far-left.
A headline yesterday in Les Echos newspaper, a financial daily, read: "President Sarkozy: a wide majority for reforming the country in depth."
Still, his task will not be easy. Sarkozy is certain to face resistance from powerful unions to his plans to make the French work more and make it easier for companies to hire and fire.
Sarkozy planned to stay out of the public eye for a few days, said Francois Fillon, an adviser often cited as the leading candidate for prime minister.
Sarkozy "will retire to somewhere in France to unwind a little ... and to start organizing and preparing his teams," Fillon told TF1 television.
The new president plans to take over power from outgoing President Jacques Chirac next Wednesday. Fillon said Sarkozy's new government would be installed on May 19 or May 20.
The election left little time for celebrating: Legislative elections are slated for June 10 and June 17, and Sarkozy's conservative UMP party needs a majority to keep his mandate for reforms. A win by the left would bring "cohabitation" -- an awkward power-sharing with a leftist prime minister -- which would put a stop to his plans.
Sarkozy, 52, has drawn up a whirlwind agenda for his first 100 days in office and plans to put big reforms before parliament at an extraordinary session in July. One bill would make overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more. Another would put in place tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, and still another would toughen the criteria for immigrants trying to bring their families to France.
On election night, scattered violence was reported across France. Police reported that 270 people were taken in for questioning and that 367 vehicles had been torched.
There had been fears that the impoverished suburban housing projects, home to immigrant families, would erupt again at the victory of a man who labeled those responsible for rioting in 2005 as "scum."
That abrasive style raised doubts over whether Sarkozy could unite a politically polarized, increasingly diverse nation.
Late on Sunday, small bands of youths hurled stones and other objects at police at the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Some bared their backsides at riot officers, and police fired volleys of tear gas. Other fights with the police broke out in Toulouse, Lyon, Rennes and Nantes, police said. Two police unions said firebombs targeted schools and recreation centers in several towns in the Essonne region just south of Paris.