Francois Hollande wins as France says 'no' to cutbacks
FRANCOIS Hollande was elected the first Socialist president of France in over two decades last night, as French voters decisively rejected Nicolas Sarkozy as the figurehead of austerity imposed as a response to the economic crisis.
Parliamentary elections in Greece delivered a second hammer blow to Europe's political order, with voters flocking to anti-austerity candidates at the expense of the two traditional ruling parties.
The combination of both results was set to upset markets and increase pressure on the euro as investors today get their first chance to react to the prospect of far-reaching uncertain in key eurozone countries.
A €105bn bailout deal reached with Europe to save the Greek economy would be thrown into doubt in the weeks of political wrangling expected to follow.
With a high turnout, Mr Sarkozy became the 11th European leader to fall foul of the economic crisis in a catastrophic result for the EU leadership.
He was ousted from the Elysée after just one term in the worst setback for the centre-Right for over 30 years.
The "silent majority" Mr Sarkozy repeatedly swore would "submerge" his Socialist rival and all those who predicted he stood no chance, failed to speak up at the eleventh hour.
"The French people have made their choice . . . Francois Hollande is the president of France and he must be respected," he said in a speech to supporters. "I wish him good luck, it's going to be difficult."
In a move that will heighten warfare within his party, he said: "I will become a Frenchman among Frenchmen," adding that he would not lead the centre-Right in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Exit polls cited by France 2 television gave the Socialist 51.9pc of the vote with a turnout of around 81pc, as joyful crowds gathered in his rural fiefdom of Tulle and in front of Socialist headquarters in Paris.
Mr Hollande was expected to pledge his victory would be a force for change not just in France but in Europe, as he prepared for a political battle with Angela Merkel between her economic doctrine of austerity and his emphasis on state spending to kickstart the economy.
"On this May 6, the French have just chosen change in bearing me to the office of president," the 57-year-old told a cheering crowd in his hometown of Tulle, in the rural Correze region. "It is the French dream that I will strive to make whole during the mandate that has just been given me."
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the man expected to be France's next prime minister, said: "We must get out of this austerity in Europe and tonight all our partners in governments around Europe have understood that was the choice of François Hollande to re-orient Europe."
Up to 100,000 jubilant supporters flocked to Paris's Place de la Bastille, a pilgrimage site for the Left, chanting "François President". But officials close to both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy were fearful of a market backlash against Socialist plans to tax the wealthy and expand jobs in the state sector.
There are concerns the new president will be unable to respect fiscal discipline targets while enacting a tax-and-spend programme that would see him take on 60,000 more education posts, partially revoke pension reform and slap a 75pc tax on millionaire owners.
Nobody in France has forgotten the stock market crash after Francois Mitterrand's 1981 election, which saw 17pc knocked off the Paris Bourse within a week of his 1981 election. The French stock exchange dropped almost 3pc a fortnight ago, after Mr Hollande won the first round.
Socialists last night said they were ready for war if investors seek to punish Mr Hollande for his policies.
Sergei Stanishev, president of the European Socialists and former Bulgarian prime minister, vowed neither markets nor Mrs Merkel would be able to break the new president.
"Democracy comes first. Governments outside France, markets, all international players must respect this," he said. "The people cannot be held hostage to markets." (©Daily Telegraph, London)