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Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Francois Hollande, 57, won the Socialist Party nomination to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in the May 2012 French presidential elections.
Hollande, a lawmaker and a local council president, beat Martine Aubry, 61, a former Labor Minister, with more than 57 percent of the vote yesterday, the party said on its website after a partial count. Aubry conceded defeat.
“Hollande’s victory is a big one; he has won by large numbers in an election that was opened to millions of voters,” said Bruno Cautres, an analyst at Cevipof, a political research center in Paris. “He’ll have a few weeks to bank on this victory before Sarkozy announces his candidacy. The weeks to come will force him to clarify plans, to sharpen his profile.”
Hollande, who has never held a ministerial position, will be challenging Sarkozy as Europe struggles to contain a sovereign debt crisis that is threatening to cap global economic growth and increase unemployment. A poll this month showed Sarkozy would trail Hollande in the first round of next year’s presidential vote. Sarkozy would get 21 percent at the April 2012 ballot compared with 32 percent for Hollande, according to an Ipsos survey for Radio France and Le Monde newspaper.
“This is a considerable democratic success,” Hollande said in a speech at the party’s Paris headquarters, citing the nearly three million voters who participated.
He said the broad victory gave him “legitimacy” to prepare for the 2012 vote. Hollande garnered more that 1.5 million votes across the country, in overseas territories and from French expatriates.
The Socialist Party’s candidate won its last presidential vote in 1988 when Francois Mitterrand was elected.
Sarkozy, who may declare his intention to run in February according to Le Figaro newspaper, is increasing travels across France to meet voters and has intensified criticism of Socialist Party programs, saying they include too much spending. He said France may lose its AAA rating if the Socialists win.
“The public finance constraint is going to be extremely binding on what the Socialists plausibly can do and I fear that they will simply not be able to realize many of their cherished ambitions,” Ian Begg, a professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics, told Bloomberg Television.
Hollande, who is more of a centrist figure in the Socialist Party than Aubry -- the architect of the 35-hour work week -- pledged to unify the various segments of the party, ranging from liberal to the hard left.
“Hollande would be regarded by the markets as a safer pair of hands, not least because Aubry is associated with the 35-hour work week, which business is very hostile to, and would see her as being more inclined to favor leftier policies,” Begg said.
Aubry, who conceded defeat less than two hours after the voting stations closed, said, “I will throw in all my energy and my strength, and behind me all the Socialists, so that in seven months he’ll be the new president.”
Hollande was supported by all candidates defeated in the first round of the primaries, including his former partner and the mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, the party’s candidate in the 2007 presidential vote, who lost to Sarkozy.
Holland’s platform, which he has not unveiled, may include a tax overhaul that would boost levies on companies delivering high dividends. It would lower the pressure on small-and-mid- sized companies. Hollande has pledged to lower the budget deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 and has promised a balanced budget in 2017. He supports putting in place laws for deficits-reduction targets.
Sarkozy’s 2010 pension reform, increasing the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60, will be changed, Hollande said.
Workers who have 41 years of pension-system contributions could retire at 60, he said. Hollande said last week the state must take greater control of banks and that they should be under state guardianship if they receive government aid. He also said that he sees a Greek default before the end of the year.
The Socialist’s common platform he signed in April, dubbed “The Change,” includes the creation of a public investment bank, the construction of 150,000 public-housing units, changes in corporate taxes, 300,000 state-aide jobs for the young, legalization of same-sex marriage and adoption.
Hollande has said he will seek cut backs on the proportion of electricity France gets from nuclear power to 50 percent by 2025 from 75 percent now, adding that he will halt plans to build a second EPR reactor in Penly while finishing the building of the first third-generation reactor in Flamanville.
Born in the western town of Rouen to a doctor and a social worker, Hollande is the president of the county council of Correze, a rural region of central France. He studied economics at HEC, one the country’s top-rated business schools, and law at Paris University. He’s also a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the elite school for civil servants.
Hollande, who takes prides in being a lawmaker from a remote part of France, goes around Paris on his scooter, his style markedly different from Sarkozy, who was once dubbed “President Bling-Bling.”
Hollande was the mayor of Tulle, a town of 16,000 inhabitants in rural France, from 2001 to 2008 and the Socialist Party chief from 1997 to 2008. While he has never held a government position, he worked at the beginning of his career in 1981 as an economic adviser to President Mitterrand. Aubry had criticized his lack of experience during the primaries.
Hollande backed the former head of the European Union Commission Jacques Delors, Aubry’s father, when he envisaged running for French president before dropping the plan.
In 2002, Hollande worked closely with Lionel Jospin, the then Prime Minister, who sought also the top job, before being eliminated in the first round. In 2005, Hollande voted in favor of the EU constitution, unlike a majority of French voters and some members of his party.
At a meeting to celebrate his victory yesterday, Hollande was accompanied by his companion Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist for Direct 8 cable television and Paris Match weekly magazine.
Holland said his challenge will be to bring France back to its fundamental values of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.”
“It’s the French Dream I want to reawaken in people,” he said.
--Editors: Vidya Root, Ben Livesey
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