French voters opt for "end of bling"

François Hollande's victory owed more to public sentiment against his rival Nicolas Sarkozy Keystone

Outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy was voted out of office rather than defeated by his Socialist opponent François Hollande in Sunday’s presidential election, say the Swiss media.

This content was published on May 7, 2012 minutes and agencies

“It is a change […] that reflects the feelings of rejection associated with Nicolas Sarkozy’s name,” wrote Geneva’s Le Temps.

“A majority of voters answered positively the calls made by the ‘normal’ presidential candidate, François Hollande, after an election without illusions, without hope,” it added.

Fribourg’s La Liberté pointed out that if the last socialist president, François Mitterand, promised voters to change their lives when he was elected in 1981, Hollande only lets them hope there will be change.

For Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger and Bern’s Der Bund, the vote in favour of Hollande was a vote against an unloved conservative incumbent. After five years in office, Sarkozy was leaving a legacy of high unemployment and record public debt.

Sarkozy can only blame himself for his defeat, reckons the Basler Zeitung. He always made sure he was in the limelight and made himself an easy target for personal attacks.

The Zurich-based tabloid Blick summarized the feeling of rejection that Sarkozy generated with its headline about the “end of bling”. “He was never loved: too arrogant, too quarrelsome, too frenzied – and too close to the rich.”

Everything to prove

Hollande will now have to prove that he is worthy of his new status.

“Being against Sarkozy is not a [government] programme,” wrote the Basler Zeitung. “France has not tackled necessary reforms like other major EU nations as Germany did under [former chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder.”

For Le Temps, “words such as effort and sacrifice were taboo during the campaign”, a theme the Berner Zeitung also picked up on.

“France has been living above its means, but won’t talk about it. Even François Hollande’s campaign was in denial.”

The new president finds himself between a rock and a hard place though, warned the Tribune de Genève and its sister paper, Lausanne’s 24 Heures.

“His fellow citizens are more and more impatient as the economy falters and want the head of state to show them how to escape this situation,” they wrote. “On the other side, states have less and less wiggle room.”

“Hollande did show during this campaign though that he knew how to change direction without forgetting his target. This could be an advantage when he will try to convince [German chancellor] Angela Merkel that some measures in favour of growth might help make Europe’s austerity packages a little more palatable.”

European growth

For the Tages Anzeiger, Hollande’s election will not bog down changes underway in Europe. “He will not undermine reforms and budget cuts, but he will want to introduce a growth component.”

“His programme, which is based on a social market economy, has more to do with social democracy than with attacking the Bastille prison,” added La Liberté.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung is less optimistic.

“Hollande’s election is a widespread rejection of the necessary budget cuts and structural reforms,“ it wrote. “His promise to expand the welfare state and his refusal to make concrete savings proposals are a danger for Europe.”

While admitting that talks about how to strike the right balance between budget cuts and stimulating growth will be unavoidable, the NZZ warns that the Socialist’s win could be seen as a signal throughout Europe that financial reform could be left for later.

For financial newspaper L’Agefi, Hollande’s victory, like the political standoff in Greece, “could have immediate and important destabilising effects on the European Union, […] with worrying consequences for Switzerland, especially on the monetary side.”

Swiss congratulations

The Swiss foreign ministry sent a message of congratulations to François Hollande on Monday.

An official message signed by this year’s Swiss president Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf will be sent later.

The foreign ministry message looked forward to “continuing close cooperation” and “ever closer ties” with France.

Foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier told the Swiss New Agency that Switzerland would like to meet a member of the new French government team as soon as possible.

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Election result

François Hollande was elected president with 51.67 per cent of the vote, while Nicolas Sarkozy garnered 48.33 per cent. The French interior ministry did not include one million votes of the French abroad in this total.

Hollande received 17.8 million votes, Sarkozy 16.7 million, while 2.1 million voters chose to leave the ballot paper blank.

While 45 million people were registered to vote, 36.6 million actually turned out over the weekend.

Participation was over 81 per cent, slightly more than during the first round of the presidential vote. However it was down from nearly 84 per cent at the last election in 2007.

The definitive results should be released by the constitutional court by Thursday.  

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