The resurgent French left, riding on popular anger at conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy and global financial markets, endorsed former Socialist Party head Francois Hollande on Sunday as its candidate for next year’s presidential elections.
Voter worries about high unemployment, spending cuts and what to do about high state debt formed the backdrop for Sunday’s Socialist Party primary and are likely to dominate the overall presidential campaign.
Hollande, a 57-year-old legislator and moderate leftist, is a low-key consensus builder who says his main selling point is that he is not the attention-grabbing Sarkozy. Hollande was the longtime partner of the Socialists’ last presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.
Hollande has no grand proposals for solving the eurozone debt crisis, which is costing France billions of euros and unsettling markets the world over or for awakening growth in the world’s fifth-largest economy, or for solving tensions with immigrants.
And he’s little known outside France, a potential handicap for someone who wants to run a nuclear-armed nation and diplomatic power. Sarkozy’s conservatives swiftly criticized his victory as shallow.
Yet opinion polls suggest Hollande could easily unseat Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek a second five-year term in elections in April and May. Leftist voters see Hollande as their most electable candidate, as they hunger for the Socialists’ first presidential victory since 1988.
With 2.3 million votes counted after Sunday’s runoff voting, the Socialist Party said 56 percent of the ballots were for Hollande and 44 percent for his challenger, Martine Aubry, author of France’s 35-hour workweek law.
The party estimates that more than 2.7 million people voted in Sunday’s runoff, open to any voters who declare loyalty to leftist values.
Early this year, the Socialists’ best hope for toppling Sarkozy was former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was jailed in May in the US on charges he tried to rape a New York hotel maid. Prosecutors later dropped the case, but Strauss-Kahn’s reputation and presidential ambitions crashed.
Hollande made few promises in his three victory speeches, instead focusing on the need to keep the long-divided French left united behind him.
“I perceived the worries that surround our common future: the disorders of finance, the excesses of globalization, the insufficiencies of Europe and the multiple attacks on our environment,” he said in one speech.
Later, he cited recent anti-capitalist protests throughout Europe and said such anger is mounting in France, too.
“We have to be capable of ... hearing these cries, these alerts that are rising in our country,” he said.
Hollande’s program calls for more spending to reverse cuts in education by Sarkozy’s government, a new work contract to encourage companies to hire young people and focus on reducing France’s high budget deficit. It says little about international affairs, other than calling for an unspecified “pact” with Germany, the EU’s economic engine, to spur on the now-troubled European project.