Royal becomes France’s first woman president
PARIS (AS) – Segolene Royal was elected France’s first ever woman president on Sunday, surprising commentators and pollsters who had predicted an overwhelming victory for her conservative rival, Nicolas Sarkozy.
With just over 80 percent of ballots counted, Socialist Royal scored just over 56 percent of the vote, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry. Sarkozy phoned Royal to concede defeat.
“The country has spoken and I will not let you down,” an emotional Royal told supporters gathered outside the Socialist Party headquarters in Paris. “I will take time to listen to our social partners, to work out our first priorities for change.”
The result was a bitter blow for Sarkozy, a former interior minister and ambitious son of a Hungarian immigrant. He had been comfortably ahead in 100 straight opinion polls leading up to the second round run-off vote.
A visibly shocked Sarkozy, 52, told his UMP party supporters “naturally we are disappointed and disillusioned” but he told them that they had to “stay mobilised” for parliamentary elections in June.
Voter turnout in these elections is estimated to have been 85 percent, the highest in 40 years.
Tens of thousands of Royal supporters converged on key sites around the French capital, including Place de la Concorde and La Bastille, for celebrations likely to go on through the night.
The Socialist win will no doubt be a relief for police chiefs who mobilised thousands of officers over fears a Sarkozy victory could spark unrest. Sarkozy is unpopular in poor suburbs because of his hard-line approach to law and order.
Royal said she wanted to be a president for all French people, telling those who voted for Sarkozy that she would promote “inter-party dialogue and cooperation” and that her responsibility was “to protect and listen to all French people.”
Over the past few days Royal remained convinced that she had a good chance of winning, despite polls that suggested she was trailing Sarkozy by as much as nine percentage points.
Royal, whose husband is the head of the Socialist Party, is the first Socialist to take the country’s top job since Francois Mitterand, president from 1981 until 1995.