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UPDATED: May 14, 2012 NO. 20 MAY 17, 2012
Under New Leadership
François Hollande has to adapt to reality despite his campaign pledges to France
By Xing Hua

THE WINNER: François Hollande celebrates his victory in Paris on May 7 (XINHUA)

After the run-off polling on May 6, the French presidential election eventually lowered its curtain. François Hollande, the 57-year-old Socialist candidate who has been in a leading position since the very beginning of the campaign, beat Nicolas Sarkozy, who was seeking re-election, to become the seventh president of France's Fifth Republic. He is also the first Socialist to occupy the Elysée after former President François Mitterrand's 14-year presidency expired in 1995.

With no interior dissension within the Left camp or the Right camp, the battle between Hollande and Sarkozy was of unusual sharpness. Hollande topped the opinion polls throughout the campaign, while Sarkozy narrowed the gap step by step. Hollande won the runoff with 51.63 percent of the vote to Sarkozy's 48.37 percent.

Looking back at Sarkozy's term over the past five years, many French people were dissatisfied with the performance of his administration and his personal style. Moreover, impacted by the unprecedented financial crisis in recent years, France is mired with heavy public debt and soaring unemployment. Voters felt disappointed over economic prospects. The Sarkozy administration could hardly absolve itself of all blame.

During the campaign, Sarkozy boasted his own ruling experience and ability. He said it was his policy that had saved France from falling into the risk of the severe debt crisis along with Greece and Spain. On the contrary, Hollande emphasized social justice. He put forward about 60 new economic programs during the campaign, and presented himself as just the opposite of his rival in his concern for people's well-being as well as his ability to overcome the current difficulties.

The result of the election shows though French people do not fully believe in the ability of Hollande due to his lack of administrative experience, they are tired of Sarkozy and eager for change. Also, the modest and fresh image that Hollande tried to present was in sharp contrast with Sarkozy's flashy and capricious behavior, which also contributed a lot to Hollande's victory.

After winning the presidential election, the Socialist Party is very likely to win more seats than other parties in the upcoming parliamentary election and then set up a majority government. French politics could turn a new page.

Hollande has never held ministerial office, so nothing can prove his governing ability. He is also a new face in the international arena, lacking experience in dealing with external affairs. In the campaign, his opponents said his lack of experience in national government made him unfit for the task of leading the world's fifth largest economy in a crisis.

After assuming office on May 15, Hollande does have to face many harsh realities domestically and internationally. How the new president deals with those difficulties has aroused concern of both French people and the international community.

The primary task for the new occupant of the Elysée might be finding policy answers for the current economic problems of France. The current French economic malaise is rooted in many long-term structural flaws and the bad international backdrop. Hollande's manifesto in the campaign was denounced by his opponents as impractical slogans to keep voters happy. After he takes office, it is true that he has to consider more of the feasibility of his policies. Therefore, an awkward dilemma can hardly be avoided for the new president. His election promises might contradict the reality of the government's shrinking fiscal capacity and its aim to cut public debt. The large funds needed to implement his commitments are still in the air. Meanwhile, necessary reforms for overcoming the current crisis might meet resistance from the public, which will eventually hurt Hollande's intentions of being close to the people.

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