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Hollande wins French presidency, signals revisit of austerity (+video)

Socialist candidate François Hollande defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency in a vote that could reposition how the country responds to the eurozone crisis.

By Staff Writer / May 6, 2012

President-elect Francois Hollande gives a speech to supporters after winning a run-off election against Nicolas Sarkozy in France.

Bob Edme/AP

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Paris

François Hollande, a Socialist who ran on being mild, centrist, and “normal” – and who a year ago wasn’t a contender – won the presidency of France today, defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in an election that looks to rebalance France's position in Europe

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Socialist candidate François Hollande defeats incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in vote for the French presidency.

Mr. Hollande said tonight in his victory speech that the austerity-only policy that has been dictated by Germany as the prescription for a spiraling euro debt crisis is "not inevitable." Berlin will be Hollande's first port of call, possibly as soon as this week. 

French voters pushed out Mr. Sarkozy, the dominant figure in politics and media here since his election in 2007; French voted for change with a turnout of 80 percent, but in a skeptical mood about the future. Sarkozy admitted defeat after exit polling at 8 pm showed Hollande winning 51.9 percent to his 48.1. 

“The French have chosen change and elected me,” said Hollande before a cheering crowd at 9:30 in which he wanted to reopen the idea of a "French dream." 

“There are not two Frances … pitted against each other,” he said, adding. “I want to give hope back to the French people … dignity, pride.” France, he said, should judge his presidency on two issues: young people and justice.

Hollande said the eyes of Europe were upon France over how it would respond to Europe's economic crisis. He signaled that the austerity-only policy of government budget cuts, championed by Germany in partnership with Sarkozy, must be leavened with policies of growth fueled by government spending.

With Europe in a banking and debt crisis, the election turned on the question of austerity vs. growth policies, analysts say, as well as the divisive figure of Sarkozy himself, and whether France would accept his turn to themes of the far right.

President-elect Hollande, whose supporters this evening gathered at the Bastille in Paris, promised national unity, social justice, and economic growth. Those themes increasingly contrasted with Sarkozy, who veered to the nationalist and often socially-divisive far right. Sarkozy also found himself lashed to the austerity policy of Germany’s Angela Merkel, even as that policy of budget slashing is seen as bringing down six European governments and anger in the streets of Europe.

'The end of arrogance'

Socialist Party No. 2 Harlem Desir announced moments after 8 pm that, “On this May 6, with François Hollande, it's the Republic that's coming back. France has refused the slide of Sarkozyism and has chosen to take back control of her destiny. It's the end of arrogance: This May 6 is a day of victory for all Republicans."

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