A new president of France, François Hollande, will be sworn in on 15 May, 2012. At the beginning of last year, anyone who would have believed that Hollande would take up residence in the center of Paris as the master of Elysée Palace would have been thought to have been high, living in the twilight zone, or both. But a series of acts of god and missteps by supposedly more savvy politicians considered to have more presidential mien than Hollande, have brought this so -called "pedal-boat captain" to the centre of the halls of power in Europe.
Hollande, the first of his party to hold office in over 17 years has pulled off a remarkable feat despite his calls for a 75% tax on the rich and the snubs he received from other European leaders like David Cameron of Britain and Angela Merkel of Germany, who went so far as to insert herself into French domestic affairs by expressing support for Sarkozy during the course of the French election campaign.
Put in another way, the victory of Hollande could be seen not as an embrace of Hollande himself, but rather a rejection of Sarkozy and his European cohorts who have so far botched Europe's response to the financial crisis and left Europe mired in high unemployment and low, if any, GDP growth. Sarkozy's defeat could be seen as simply the latest, and perhaps most prominent, scalp, after prime minister Papandreou of Greece and prime minister Berlusconi of Italy, to be sacrificed at the altar of the ongoing crisis in Europe.
To look at how the improbable presidency of Hollande, branded as boring by allies and enemies alike, came to be, one could look at three flashier politicians on both the left and the right of French politics, whose downfalls led to the accidental presidency of François Hollande, namely Nicolas Sarkozy, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Ségolène Royal.
Nicolas Sarkozy - Sarkozy has been called many things that the French consider insults, including "Président bling, bling" and "Sarko l'Américain". But one moniker that the French have not publicly given him, but one that he obviously deserves, is the label of hypocrite. Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian immigrant, yet, as France got sucked deeper into the financial crisis, unemployment rose to historic levels and public support waned, Sarkozy turned to immigrant bashing in order to generate support for a second term and went so far as to recently declare that there are too many immigrants in France.
But his stance against immigration, and I mean all immigration, not just illegal immigration, is not the only reason why his candidacy failed. The dictatorial manner in which he rammed through the raise of France's retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2010 despite widespread protests, an unfulfilled promise to reduce France's unemployment rate to 5%, a failure that Hollande focused on during the sole Sarkozy-Hollande debate of the election season, and a January 2012 downgrade by Standard & Poor's, which stripped France of its cherished AAA rating, all contributed to putting the nail in the coffin of the Sarkozy era.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn - DSK, as he is known in France, was a revered French politician and international figure who rose to become the president of the International Monetary Fund. He was intelligent, wealthy, but not showy, in a long term marriage to the Barbara Walters of French journalism and fluent in English, as well as his native French. As Sarkozy self-combusted, DSK was supposed to triumphantly return from the Washington headquarters of the IMF and slide easily into the role that he was born to play as Monsieur le President de la Republique.
He was supposed to bring respectability back to the Elysée Palace, but instead he became France's national shame. In May 2011, DSK was removed by the NYPD from an Air France flight leaving New York for Paris, perp-walked through New York and ended up taking up residence at New York's infamous Rikers Island jail charged with the rape of a hotel chambermaid. Despite French condemnation of American criminal justice, and some invoking the Frenchman's droit de cuissage (the right of a master to have sex with his subordinate), DSK's political career was over.
Ségolène Royal - The ex-common law wife of François Hollande was considered more of a heavy weight politician than the father of her four children. In 2007, the Socialist Party choose Royal, making her the first woman nominated for president by a major French party. She lost to a Sarkozy who was then popular and considered a breath of fresh air in French politics.
Hollande, who was then running the Socialist Party, was blamed for her defeat and the couple ended their close to 30 year union.
In 2011, Royal ran against Hollande in the Socialist Party's primary after DSK ended up in a jail cell in New York, but this time, she was not trusted enough by the party's base to come out the victor in round 2 of Sarkozy versus Royal, so the party chose Hollande instead.
So today, as the almost 50% of French citizens who did not vote for Hollande resign themselves to defeat and prepare for a new socialist government in France, Hollande has many challenges ahead of him, not least of all is reducing unemployment, putting France back on a trajectory of growth and truly unifying France across ideological, religious and racial divides.
Believing that France needed to change, Hollande co-opted part of Barack Obama's 2008 election slogan, declaring "changement c'est maintenant." Enough French citizens believed that it was time for a change and Hollande now has five years to show France the change for which its citizens are longing. If he is able to pull it off, people will remember him more for being a great president than, rather than an accidental one.
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