The winner of France’s first round presidential election, Francois Hollande, has thanked his supporters for their vote of confidence and hit out at his main opponent Nicolas Sarkozy for “playing to the far right”.
A ferocious head to head battle now begins to decide who will win the final race on May 6.
Socialist Hollande said: “Thanks to you this evening, change is now underway. I say that nothing will stop it. It now depends on the French people. The choice is simple, either to continue a policy that has failed with an outgoing candidate who was divisive, or rebuild the country with a new president of the Republic who will unite.”
Despite five years as president, centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy came in second in Sunday’s first round election with many French voters appearing to punish him for his economic record.
He continued to play to voters’ concerns in a speech to supporters after the results were announced: “These fears, this suffering, I understand them. They are about respecting our borders, the determined battle against losing jobs overseas, immigration control, increasing the status of workers, security for people and their families.”
Sarkozy’s performance was the worst by an incumbent president in the first round in modern history. Analysts think his second-round campaign will reach out to the incredible 18% of voters who chose far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Hollande, they say, can count on support from the left and nearly half of Le Pen voters.