The Fifth Republic has chosen its first socialist president since Francois Mitterand: Francois Hollande, an experienced political organizer that has, until now, never held high government office. Nicolas Sarkozy, pulling 48.1% of the vote, concedes victory to Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party of France at 51.9%.
While described as reserved by some, this does not belie a lack of resolve. Having survived a grueling political contest to secure the Socialist Party of France’s nomination for president, Hollande is no stranger to drama. Estranged partner and former contender for the Socialist spot on the ticket, Segolene Royal, mother of Hollande’s four children, endorsed his bid for president, capping a dramatic contest on the left that tested him publicly and demonstrated his ability to handle the spotlight.
The son of a doctor, Francois Hollande was born on 12 August 1954 in Rouen. He joined the Socialist Party in 1979 and was an economic adviser to former French President Francois Mitterrand.
Hollande succeeded former Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin as party leader in 1997. After Ms. Royal’s defeat in the 2008 presidential contest, Hollande stepped down from his leadership post and the ensuing personal scandals between Holland and Royal would drag the Socialist Party through the mire of scandal.
Hollande’s positive traits have outweighed any personal scandals. Voters have cited his likability, consistency, and intelligence as the qualities that endear him to them. After the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal sunk his candidacy, Holland’s ascendancy was a return to stability and a display of unity for the party heading into the 2012 contest against Sarkozy, a man oft criticized for his flamboyant and bombastic style.
Despite his personal flaws, Sarkozy is also ill-fated to be the leader that guided the Fifth Republic through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The monetary union’s future in doubt, Hollande’s election symbolizes a rejection of austerity on many levels and a critique of the Franco-German axis that governs continental politics.
France’s social model is under strain and the challenges facing newly elected Francois Hollande are daunting. Public spending is 56% of GDP, unemployment is greater than 10%, and debt will be 90% of GDP this year. The capacity for debt markets to continue to absorb this rate of borrowing, as well as the ability of the French state to repay such debts, is continually shrinking.