France Presidential Election: A socialist at Elysee Palace…most likely – became certainty

French citizens are voting on Sunday in a crucial runoff that could see a Socialist win the presidential poll for the first time since 1988. On Saturday, as the polling stations opened in France’s overseas territories, starting in the tiny islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland.

The two candidates competing in the second round are François Hollande, an opposition leader of the French Socialist Party, and Nicolas Sarkozy, incumbent president and leader of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement. The first round of the presidential race in France ended on April 22. Under Sarkozy, France pledged to rein in its spending while the rest of 17 countries that use the euro embark on a strict period of belt-tightening. The rating agency Standard & Poor’s this year downgraded France’s triple-A credit rating, citing in part its over-high state spending for straining public finances. Both Hollande, a moderate from the centre ground of the Socialist party, and Sarkozy have promised to balance the books – France hasn’t had a balanced budget for more than 30 years. Hollande has promised to renegotiate Europe’s fiscal pact on austerity and shift the focus to growth measures.

According WSJ, Hollande will wait for the announcement of election results in his native city Tulle. Sarkozy will be in Paris and is expected to deliver a speech to his supporters and journalists at the election headquarters after the name of the winner is known.

Update: Leading Brussels paper reporting Socialists claiming Hollande has won 53% to 47%. French voter participation at 5pm local time: 71.96% (more than in the 22 April first round) – according French Minister of Interior. An exemplary mobilization suggesting that the French have understood the importance their presence at the polls.

Update_2: Au revoir, Sarko ! Exit polls: Hollande – 51,9%; Sarkozy – 48,1%

  The Socialist Left are back in power in the Elysee Palace. Francoise Hollande is the 24th president of France. He is first Socialist president since François Mitterrand’s re-election in 1988. BBC Live footage of the crowds outside Socialist headquarters in Paris (Place de la Bastille) shows people cheering, waving flags, hoisting children into the air, one man pumping the air with his fist. Sarkozy has accepted the victory of Hollande. He phoned Mr Hollande to wish him “good luck”. Voice strained, Sarkozy thanks cheering supporters at his party headquarters in Paris (Place de la Concorde), saying it was an honour to have served France. Re-gaining the presidency is a triumph for the Socialists but the story is not over there: a new parliament is to be elected on 10-17 June in the country which made famous/notorious the term “cohabitation”. More, the new president will have no state of grace, leading a country crippled by public debt and in economic crisis, with unemployment nudging a record 10%, a gaping trade-deficit, stuttering growth and declining industry. France’s public debt is so high that interest repayments alone account for the second highest state expenditure after education.

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