A diet and sex scandal brings us President-Elect Hollande PROFILE
Francois Hollande’s election as French president caps a stunning metamorphosis from the slightly geeky Socialist who was always the bridesmaid, never the bride, to the country’s first left-wing leader in 17 years.
The transformation began with his tailoring.
The portly father of four went on a crash diet, losing 12 kilograms by cutting back on cheese, wine and chocolate, and swapping his ill-fitting jackets for sharp suits.
Yet his name would probably be no more than a footnote to the election if former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been expected to stand against Sarkozy on behalf of the Socialists, had not been arrested for attempted rape in New York.
Strauss-Kahn’s de-facto disqualification from the race cleared the path for the 1997-2008 Socialist Party leader to scoop up the nomination and win back the Elysee, five years after Sarkozy defeated Hollande’s former partner, Segolene Royal.
The election was always Hollande’s to lose.
The impetuous Sarkozy was the most unpopular incumbent in recent history, with only 36 percent of the French having a favourable opinion of him, according to a poll ahead of the election.
Unlike 2007 when many jealous “elephants”, as Socialist heavyweights are called, refused to endorse Royal, this time the party was united behind Hollande, after he defeated the party leader, Martine Aubry, in primary elections for the candidacy.
Plus, change is in the air in Europe, where disillusioned voters are punishing governments for allowing the debt crisis to develop.
Hollande has promised to challenge the German-inspired insistence on austerity that has recently dominated in the European Union.
His victory comes on the back of three consecutive Socialist successes in local, regional and senate elections, at the expense of Sarkozy’s centre-right Union for a Popular Movement.
And yet Hollande’s “Change Is Now” campaign failed to generate much excitement, with many people admitting their vote was a red card to Sarkozy rather than an active endorsement of Hollande.
Throughout the campaign Hollande was dogged by his reputation as a consensus man, dubbed a “Flanby” (a French brand of wobbly pudding).
Sarkozy seized on that reputation to cast doubts about his fitness for office.
But the Socialist showed his mettle in a feisty television debate on Wednesday, landing the first blows against Sarkozy and coming off as more convincing.
He wasn’t soft then, but was he dangerous?
“Vote Hollande and you’ll get Greece,” the Sarkozy campaign said.
But the warnings fell flat as Hollande revealed himself to be a pragmatist.
He has promised to erase the budget deficit by 2017, mainly by increasing taxes and capping spending increases at 1 per cent a year, but also pledged to hire 60,000 teachers and slap a 75-per-cent tax on incomes above 1 million euros (1.3 million dollars).
“I am not dangerous,” he told City of London financiers during a visit in February.
Sarkozy accused Hollande of lacking coherence, saying he was “Thatcher in London and Mitterand in Paris”.
But it was Hollande’s calm demeanour that won the day, compared with the restless Sarkozy’s chops and changes.
From the start the Socialist candidate stuck to his “60 commitments for France” and his promise to be the president of "recovery, unity and justice”.
Born August 12, 1954 in the northern city of Rouen, Hollande is a product of l’Ecole Normale d’Administration (ENA), an elite college that has turned out generations of French politicians.
He was first elected to the National Assembly in 1998 in the central Correze constituency, which he made his political home, later becoming the region’s elected president. But he has never served in a national government.
Hollande is in a relationship with Paris Match journalist Valerie Trierweiler. He split from Royal shortly after her failed presidential bid in 2007.