François Hollande has long been the favourite to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy next April. But some opinion polls show that both he and Martine Aubry could unseat Sarkozy if the election were held today.
The bitter rivals and former party leaders need to clarify what distinguishes them. He says: “I am the candidate of change.” She says: “I’ll carry out deep change.”
Critics say many voters who supported Sarkozy for his message of change in 2007 now resent his impulsive and brash manner. The contenders must compete without shattering the fragile notion of Socialist togetherness.
It is less likely that the voters will choose based on ideas than on style and ambition. Hollande has wanted the top job for ages. Aubry rather entered the contest by chance — with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s dropping out.
Aubry is a more old-school leftist, preferring results to fine talk, which she is less good at. She stresses how she knows the facts of a case, citing her experience, notably ministerial in two governments, and as twice-elected mayor of Lille, and reforms she began.
Hollande has always worked behind the scenes, notably backing Lionel Jospin to become prime minister. Hollande is clearly more image-oriented, dieting and working on gestures and intonation borrowed from France’s longest-serving president, Francois Mitterand.
Aubry said, ahead of the primary: “You can’t fight the hard right with the soft left.” Hollande detractors say he is soft, while Aubry, though less-liked by some, comes across as more forthright.
She and Hollande publicly agree that maintaining confidence among the Socialists is very important.
Their respective programmes are closely alike, though Aubry tacks more to the left.
Hollande says he is an economic realist. He has spoken out for root and branch fiscal reform. Aubry wants to address special tax deductions and exemptions.
Hollande proposes a contract for people under 30 where their employers would not have to pay social contributions for five years. Aubry sharply criticised this as too costly.
The woman who introduced France’s 35-hour working week under the Jospin government wants to concentrate on updating a future-employment-for-young-people programme put in place in 1997, promising 300,000 jobs within the next five years.