François Hollande has won the Oct. 16 primary election against Martine Aubry, making him the Socialist Party candidate to challenge incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy for the French presidency in May 2012.
With roughly 2.2 million of the 2.7 million votes counted, Hollande, 57, beat party leader Aubry, 61, by 56% to 44% in the second round of voting. The vote was France's first US-modeled open primary, in which any elector supporting the ideals of the left was given a chance to vote.
Aubrey conceded in a televised statement. [I want] to warmly salute the victory of François Hollande, she told audiences. Tonight, we rally behind our candidate.
From Replacement Candidate to Sure Winner
Hollande was an unlikely candidate for the presidency. Until this year, the Socialist Party had backed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as the presumed front-runner against incumbent Sarkozy.
Following the center-right Strauss-Kahn's arrest for attempted rape in New York, Hollande's genial personality and centrist attitude garnered him many of Strauss-Kahn's former supporters, and he entered the run-off election backed by four candidates he had defeated in the first round of the primaries.
Although largely unknown outside of France, Hollande served as chief of the Socialist Party from 1997 to 2008, and is currently heading Correze, a region in central France. He helped save Correze from debts incurred through failed infrastructure projects by Jacques Chirac, a former President with whom Hollande is close.
Segolene Royal, his former partner and the Left's defeated candidate in 2007, said the win showed support was firmly on Hollande's side. That France's Left chose him was an undeniable advance... and [showed] very strong trust in his ability to win and to lead, she told reporters.
Inexperienced and Soft
Despite the result, Hollande's win over Aubry was far from a sure thing, and the Socialist Party is taking a risk by having Hollande face Sarkozy.
Aubry, a former labor minister who secured the 35-hour work week for France, took over Hollande's old position as Socialist Party general secretary. According to Jakarta Globe, Aubry refused to stay quiet about what she reported as the deplorable organization and operation of her new position.
During the debates, for which millions of citizens tuned in, Aubry accused Hollande of being soft left, arguing that he frequently vacillated on his positions and that he lacked the backbone necessary to take on the UMP's (Union for a Popular Movement) Sarkozy.
Hollande is, in fact, remarkably inexperienced for the presidency in comparison to his competitors. Despite having risen high within the Socialist Party itself, he has never held a position in government, and has never been elected by the French public. His leadership in Correze, meanwhile, has been downplayed by many critics, noting that the region is question is vastly under populated and the area itself small and still-underdeveloped.
To defeat Sarkozy, however, experience may be less important than it would have been in 2007. During the debates, Hollande took Aubry's attacks on his experience and turned them to his advantage, arguing that his lack of track record made him a candidate of change.
More so than political posturing, however, Hollande's background outside of politics is economics, a strength that could not have come for him at a better time in his quest for the presidency.
A graduate of l'Ecole National d'Administration, an elite academy for French civil servants, Hollande's career began in 1981 when he served as economic advisor to François Mitterand, France's Socialist president. Hollande helped design and implement the nationalization of many of the country's largest companies and banks, and his successes in Correze, no matter how significant they turn out to be, have been noted by the public.
Economics alone, however, makes for rather dry reading, and both Hollande and Sarkozy will be too constrained by budget considerations from the euro debt crisis to rely on government spending and projects alone, the usual debate fodder.
A Normal President.
Hollande has been clever enough to also cultivate a down-to-earth persona. He puts himself forward as a normal president, according to Reuters, that will both institute reform and avoid over-spending, balancing the extremes of Left and Right.
The normal comments are a direct jab at Sarkozy, 56, known better for his marriage to singer Carla Bruni, with whom he is expecting a child, and the flashiness that dubbed him President Bling Bling, than his accomplishments since he won in 2007.
Indeed, with Hollande's continued assurance that he is a force of stability, and his careful avoidance of the money-wasting leftist stereotype, it is likely the upcoming election will be, as The Journal puts it, a duel of styles more than a clash of ideals.
As The Guardian points out, those styles could not be more different. Sarkozy is edgy, cocky, but very charmasmatic. Hollade is grounded, cheerful, and often self-deprecating. And while Sarkozy is known to be conscious of his height, mirroring Napoleon by often avoiding photographs with those who are taller, Hollande makes fun of his own small stature, joking that his low center of gravity means he'll more difficult to knock over.
This is one example of Hollande often sharp wit, something which keeps him engaging even as he served as the face of a moderate ballast within his party. He is very funny, Bernadette Chirac, the former president's wife, told Reuters. He knows how to work a crowd, a market, a fair, a local council.
Following his victory at the primary, Hollande spoke of his quest to revive the French dream. [I am] the candidate of respect and dialogue, he told AGI. He also set up the Socialist Party directly in opposition to the UMP, which has nothing to lose, except for what it really has at heart: power.
In recent weeks, public opinion surveys showed both Sarkozy and Aubry trailing Hollande in the polls, The Times reported, and have consistently showed Hollande beating Sarkozy in a presidential showdown.
Polls also indicate that voters believe Hollande will do a better job than Sarkozy at steering the economy through financial hardship, another nod to his economic policy roots.
Still an Open Race
The race, however, has not even begun, and one crucial issue remained largely untouched during the Socialist Party debates: foreign policy, Hollande's weakest link and Sarkozy's strongest.
Foreign affairs are a prerogative of the French incumbent, and Hollande has had almost no dealings outside of his own country, within which he remains a well-known name.
UMP, meanwhile, announced its intention to run, presumably with Sarkozy, even before Hollande's win was announced. This evening we'll have an opponent, Jean- François Cope, leader of the UMP, warned reporters. We'll finally be abel to demand some answers.
Sarkozy, busy as he is with the economic crises rocking Europe, has not yet announced his candidacy for a second five-year term, and may not do so formally until early in 2012. In the meantime, the French president will attend a European Union summit meeting in late October on the euro debt crisis, and will help run a summit of some 20 nations in Cannes in early November.
Other candidates to win the presidency will likely include Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and candidates from ecology and centrist parties.