Socialists' Hollande is kinder, gentler than rival Sarkozy

Socialists' Hollande is kinder, gentler than rival Sarkozy

Francois Hollande. AP

This spring, the Socialist Party’s strongest potential competitor to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy became the target of sex-crimes accusations that grabbed headlines across the world, and focussed attention on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s history of infidelities. Now, the French appear to be in the mood for a change.

On Sunday, the Socialists nominated Francois Hollande, an affable, soft-spoken and witty former longtime party boss, as their candidate for what is likely to be a presidential election showdown next May against the divisive Sarkozy.

In recent months, Hollande has said he wants to be a “normal” president. Opinion polls suggest the strategy may be working, showing Hollande is far more popular than the vastly unpopular incumbent.

When asked “Why you?” Hollande answered: “Because I can beat Nicolas Sarkozy.”
Hollande, a bespectacled 57-year-old career politician, has built his reputation as a manager and consensus-builder more than a visionary.

Sarkozy’s backers went on the counteroffensive on Monday, trying to depict Hollande as wishy-washy, lacklustre and unprincipled. “What do people say about Francois Hollande? They say he’s skillful; they never say he’s courageous,” said Jean-Francois Cope, who leads Sarkozy’s UMP party.

Sarkozy has had no shortage of bold decisions — not all perceived as good for France — and he has grown unpopular: His ratings have hovered around 30 per cent for months, after winning with 53 per cent of the vote in 2007.

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