Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolas Sarkozy gives the thumbs-up from a limousine en route to a victory celebration at Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Nicolas Sarkozy gives the thumbs-up from a limousine en route to a victory celebration at Place de la Concorde in Paris. Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was elected the next French president Sunday, beating his Socialist rival Segolene Royal by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent and giving him a strong mandate for his vision of France's future.
He wants to free up labor markets, calls France's 35-hour work week absurd and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration. But first he must win control of parliament in new elections next month.
Many say Sarkozy is just the man to turn the French economy around.
"Now things are going to change in France," said Guillaume Avelin, 19. "We're going to come back to full employment. People are very happy ... you can hear it. And France ... is going to be again a great country."
Thousands of Sarkozy supporters who had gathered before large TV screens in the street outside Sarkozy's Paris headquarters exploded with joy when results of his were announced.
Sarkozy, the tough-talking former interior minister, won on a platform of economic and social reform. He promised to put people back to work and jump-start the French economy.
He also said he'd sweep away what he calls the values of the 1968 student revolution that he says have degraded France.
"The French people have expressed themselves, and they chose to break with the ideas, habits and behaviors of the past," Sarkozy said. "I will rehabilitate work, authority, morals, respect and merit. I will put the nation and national identity first and give the French people a reason to be proud."
Such talk is anathema to many supporters of Segolene Royal, who gathered at her headquarters in bitter disappointment. Many here see Sarkozy as an authoritarian and divisive figure who will aggravate France's social divide.
In the run-down suburbs around many French cities, reactions to the election result ranged from gloom to outright anger, as youths set cars on fire and skirmished with police. The touble points to the very first challenge Sarkozy will face: proving that he can be the president of all of France.
Royal's defeat is a severe blow for French socialists, who have not held the presidency since Francois Mitterrand's last term ended in 1995. Royal, who never seemed to convince voters that she had enough substance, made her concession speech quickly. She kept her smile but never mentioned her opponent's name.
Downtown Paris celebrated, as car horns blared along the Champs Elysees.
Political commentator Nichole Bacharan says the election was the triumph of a platform proposing far-reaching reforms for Europe's third-largest economy over one stressing the need to preserve the country's welfare state.
"I think this vote means we want to enter the 21st century," Bacharan said. "People chose with a significant majority to open up, look at what's happening outside and join the European nations that have managed to create full employment and can compete in the global economy."
In his speech, Sarkozy said he would govern in unity and fraternity and be the president of all of the French people.
When he finished, and the crowd began to sing the Marseillaise, the Hungarian immigrant's son who has had his sights on the French presidency for 30 years just stepped back and seemed to take it all in.