Francois Hollande convincingly won the French Socialist Party’s presidential primary election on Sunday to become the candidate who will try to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy next April and return a Socialist to the Elysee Palace for the first time in 17 years.
With about two-thirds of votes counted, Hollande’s victory in a runoff ballot against Martine Aubry was resounding, with his score topping 56 percent.
“I will invest all my strength and energy to ensure that he is the president of France seven months from now,” Aubry said in a brief address.
The polls suggest French voters are ready to put the left back in the Elysee Palace and oust the unpopular Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek a second five-year term.
It would be the first presidential election they had won since the late Francois Mitterrand was re-elected in 1988.
The left’s runaway favorite to become president had been former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn but his IMF career and presidential hopes foundered when he was arrested in New York in May on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. The charges have since been dropped.
The ease with which Hollande and Aubry filled his shoes as popular alternatives suggests that many voters are simply weary of Sarkozy and his economic policies.
Hollande has never held a national government post, unlike former labor minister Aubry, architect of France’s 35-hour working week and daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors.
The Socialist Party had organized a two-round contest where anyone who paid a euro and declared allegiance to left-wing values could vote.
More than 2.6 million people voted in the first-round last Sunday, when anti-globalization hard-liner Arnaud Montebourg scored a surprise 17 percent. Socialist Party chief Harlem Desir said turnout for the runoff on a sunny Sunday across most of France appeared to have risen about 6 percent.
Hollande, who promised in the final days of campaigning to crack down on banks and financial market excess, consolidated his position by securing the support of the four contenders knocked out in round one, including Montebourg.
Aubry is considered a more old-school Socialist but much of the difference is in style rather than fundamental policy.
Among the four eliminated candidates who sided with Hollande for the runoff was Segolene Royal, Hollande’s former companion and mother of his four children.
Primary finalists Hollande and Aubry shared the main tenets of a Socialist Party manifesto that promises to scrap 50 billion euros ($69.3 billion) of tax breaks that mostly went to the wealthy under Sarkozy, using half of this money to fund state jobs and promote growth, with the rest to cut the deficit.
Sarkozy, who won power in 2007 after 12 years of fellow conservative Jacques Chirac, has yet to declare a re-election bid.
Opinion polls show him trailing Hollande in a presidential election which takes place in two rounds on April 22 and May 6, followed weeks later by a parliamentary election.