Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy today to become France’s next president, heralding a change in how Europe tackles its debt crisis and how France flexes its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.
Mr Sarkozy conceded defeat minutes after the polls closed, saying he had called Mr Hollande to wish him “good luck” as the country’s new leader.
Exuberant crowds filled the Place de la Bastille, the iconic plaza of the French Revolution, to celebrate Mr Hollande’s victory. He will be France’s first leftist chief of state since Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.
Mr Sarkozy thanked his supporters and said he did his best to win a second term, despite widespread anger at his handling of the economy.
“I take responsibility ... for the defeat,” he said.
Mr Hollande’s former partner and mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, said she has a “feeling of profound joy to see millions and millions of French renew the tie to the left.”
“The French can be confident,” she said on France-2 television. “We will need everyone to help the country recover.” Ms Royal faced off Sarkozy in the 2007 election.
Partial official results, with about half of the nationwide votes counted, showed Mr Hollande with 50.8% compared to 49.2% for Mr Sarkozy. The CSA, TNS-Sofres and Ipsos polling agencies predicted that Mr Hollande will win with 51.8% to 53%, compared with 47% to 48.2% for Mr Sarkozy. They made projections based on the vote count at select voting stations around the country.
Mr Hollande wants to renegotiate a hard-won European treaty on budget cuts that Germany’s Angela Merkel and Mr Sarkozy had championed. He wants more government stimulus, and more government spending in general despite concerns from markets that France needs to urgently trim its huge debts.
The election outcome could also have an impact on how long French troops stay in Afghanistan and how France exercises its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.