France votes for new president, Greece looks left
Victorious French left reclaims leadership, Sarkozy ousted
PARIS - Giddy revellers thronged Paris’s Bastille square on Sunday as Socialist Francois Hollande swept to a presidential election victory, erupting into cheers and rejoicing not seen since the party’s only other elected president won power 31 years ago.
Hollande beat conservative Nicolas Sarkozy with 51,7% of Sunday’s runoff vote after a bruising campaign dominated by the same anger over economic crisis that has felled 10 other European leaders since late 2009.
Tens of thousands of Hollande supporters gave a huge cry of joy as a giant screen showed him as victor, echoing the spontaneous street party in the same historic venue that followed Francois Mitterrand’s 1981 election.
The party paused for Hollande, who arrived after midnight to address supporters from a concert stage with his campaign slogan, “Change, now”, written on a pale blue background.
“I am the president of youth,” he said in a brief speech. “I know how happy you are, those of you who were here 31 years ago, but I also know how much you, the younger generation, want to take part in building the French nation.”
“In every capital, beyond the heads of government and heads of states, there are people who have found hope thanks to us, who are looking to us and want to put an end to austerity.”
For the centre-left Hollande, victory will be tempered with a sense of realism about tough political choices to come. He inherits a stagnant economy, jobless claims at a 12-year high and anxiety resurfacing about Europe’s debt crisis.
“I don’t know if Hollande will do any better on the economy than Sarkozy, but I want a president who knows the value of justice and sharing,” said Maxime Vissac, 27, a teacher in training in Paris. “I have no illusions about the economy — it’s going to be tough all over Europe.”
Supporters at Socialist party headquarters in Paris sang
”We’ve won! We’ve won!” as they watched Sarkozy concede defeat on live television and waited for Hollande, still in his rural political base in Correze, central France.
“We’ve endured five years of Sarkozy, of excessive (economic) liberalism, and now it’s good to know that we are going to have a more democratic society,” said Lesley Cassin, 19, a student of economics in Paris.
ALEXIS TSIPRAS, GREECE’S BRASH YOUNG KINGMAKER OF THE LEFT
ATHENS - Greece’s youngest leader, brash and self-assured Alexis Tsipras on Sunday saw his anti-austerity campaign vindicated as his leftist Syriza party more than tripled its strength in national elections.
With over half of polling stations accounted for on Sunday, Syriza was cruising to become the country’s second party, riding a wave of anger towards two years of crushing austerity that has left Greece adrift in a deep recession.
“The time of the Left has come,” hundreds of party supporters chanted as they rushed to celebrate at the Propylaia, a central Athens square where anti-government leftist protests are traditionally launched.
Previously Greece’s fifth largest party, from Monday this loosely-knit coalition of left-wing groups could be calling the shots as the country embarks on a tortuous course to form a new government and complete painful economic reforms.
If the New Democracy conservatives who topped Sunday’s poll are unable to form a government within three days after receiving a mandate from head of state President Carolos Papoulias, the task will fall to Syriza.
As far as 37-year-old Tsipras is concerned, the country is heading in the wrong direction and ought to ditch the recovery blueprint mandated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The former Communist youth activist had a shaky start when he took over the party in 2008, backing rioting youths who vandalised Athens and other cities in retaliation for the fatal shooting of a teenage boy by a police patrolman. But his attacks on the unpopular EU-IMF recovery plan, known here as the ’memorandum’, tapped into a deep vein of outrage here.