monday, 7 may of 2012

Hollande ousts Sarkozy in French presidential election


Hollande ousts Sarkozy in French presidential election

François Hollande defeated President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday, becoming the first Socialist elected president of France since François Mitterrand. Mr. Hollande campaigned on a gentler and more inclusive France, but his victory will also be seen as a challenge to the German-dominated vision of economic austerity as a way out of the euro crisis.

Mr. Sarkozy became the latest European leader to lose his post amid economic upheaval and the first French incumbent to be rejected since 1981.

In his five years in office, he propelled France, and himself, into a more central role in world affairs, rejoining the NATO military command and helping drive an international military campaign in Libya. He also proved to be a difficult but crucial ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in their joint effort to master the European debt and currency crisis and save the euro.

That project, however, received multiple blows on Sunday, when Greek voters sent their own message against austerity. They handed the two main parties, both of which had pledged to follow harsh international bailout terms, significant losses as they streamed to parties on the far left and far right that have opposed budget cuts. In the process, voters cast into question the ability of any party to form a government soon, let alone continue with the austerity program.

For their part, French voters may not like belt-tightening, but both Mr. Hollande and Mr. Sarkozy had promised to balance the budget in the next five years.

The balance between reducing the debt and addressing popular anger is proving complicated for Europeans, and Mr. Hollande has said that he intends to give “a new direction to Europe,” demanding that a European Union treaty limiting debt be expanded to include measures to produce economic growth. Domestically, he has promised to raise taxes on big corporations and raise the tax rate to 75 percent for those earning more than one million euros a year.

Calling his victory “a fresh start,” Mr. Hollande pronounced: “Austerity need not be Europe’s fate.”

The vote was viewed domestically as a rejection of Mr. Sarkozy and his relentless effort to appeal to the voters of the far-right National Front.

“I take the measure of the honor that’s been given me and the challenge that awaits me,” Mr. Hollande said before cheering supporters in the central French town of Tulle, which he represents in Parliament.

Mr. Hollande’s victory was narrow but undisputed. With 95 percent of the vote counted, official results showed him with 51.6 percent of the vote while Mr. Sarkozy, of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, had 48.4 percent, The Associated Press said.

While thanking Mr. Sarkozy for his service to France, Mr. Hollande said: “Too many divisions, too many wounds, too many ruptures, too many cuts have separated our fellow citizens from one another. That’s all finished.”

After weeks of energetic, and at times bellicose, campaigning, Mr. Sarkozy was gracious in defeat. “François Hollande is the president of the republic, he must be respected,” Mr. Sarkozy said after calling Mr. Hollande to congratulate him. “I want to wish him good luck in the midst of these tests.”

Speaking earlier to party members, Mr. Sarkozy said that he would not lead the party into June’s legislative elections and that now, “I become a citizen among you.” He urged supporters not to give in to division, though, as he saw those elections as winnable for the party.

The French and Greek elections were closely watched in European capitals and particularly in Berlin, where Ms. Merkel has led the drive to cure the euro zone debt and banking crisis with deep budget cuts and caps on future spending. She spoke on the telephone with Mr. Hollande on Sunday night, congratulating him on his victory in the election, according to a statement by her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Mr. Hollande has said for months that his first trip will be to Berlin.

But Ms. Merkel herself was embroiled in electoral politics on Sunday, suffering setbacks in elections in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, where her party appeared to be losing its hold on the state Parliament. With another election coming May 13 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Ms. Merkel is not viewed as having much room domestically to compromise on the critical issues of inflation and debt limits.

(Published by The New York Times - May 7, 2012)

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