Francois Hollande, after the first round of voting in France’s presidential election, is closer to the office of French president than any Socialist has been since the late Francois Mitterand.
He presents himself as the candidate to turf out Nicolas Sarkozy, the choice for change. The presidency has been in conservative hands since 1995.
A confident Hollande said: “May 6th will be a victory for France and for the Republic. Thanks for coming out, so many of you, and for your enthusiasm!”
At age 57, the candidate hopes to pull off the greatest challenge of his political career. He has been an MP for the rural Correze region, and its Council president, and ever the dedicated Socialist party organiser.
Yet, in spite of European and regional election victories, the party had trouble converting this into national gains, until now. The defeat of the European constitutional project, which Hollande had promoted, was one of the setbacks. While often close to power, he has never been in government.
The graduate of the elite administrative school ENA was chosen over party leader Martine Aubry as the Socialists’ candidate last year. The man sometimes derided for appearing ‘normal’ launched his new-look campaign.
His former domestic partner, Segolene Royal, lost the 2007 presidential race to Sarkozy. With Hollande, the Socialists put their best centre-left foot forward, consensual and jovial, for 2012 and the future.
This followed the shock scandal surrounding would-be candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Hollande said: “In this battle, I’ll tell you who my real adversary is. He has no name, no face, no party. He will never stand as a candidate, so will never be elected, and yet he – it – rules. This adversary is the world of finance.”
A father of four (with former companion Royal), Hollande has been together with working journalist and divorced mother of three Valerie Trierweiler for several years. They do not intend to marry even if round two voting awards him France’s highest office.