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September 27, 2017

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How regular Hollande defeated Super Sarkozy

PARIS -- Francois Hollande became the first Socialist president of France in 17 years on Sunday, swept along by a groundswell of rejection of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

From the outset the election was a referendum on Sarkozy, with critical voters mobilizing to block another five years of his divisive leadership rather than to explicitly endorse Hollande.

"Too many divisions, too much hurt, too many ruptures, too many cuts have separated our citizens," Hollande said in his first remarks as president-elect.

"I will be the president of all," he told supporters in his central stronghold of Correze.

Nathalie Brisac, a 51-year-old writer, who celebrated Hollande's win at a street party outside the Socialist Party's headquarters, told dpa she was "super-happy. We kicked out Sarkozy!"

Sarkozy, for his part, was noble in defeat.

"I carry all the responsibility for this defeat," Sarkozy acknowledged, wishing his successor luck.

The election was an emotional affair between Sarkozy and the French, who developed an intense dislike for him at the outset of his presidency for cozying up to the rich.

Five years later, Sarkozy wore his 2007 election celebration with some of France's richest people like a cross.

His contemptuous remark to a man who refused to shake his hand at a farm fair in 2008 — telling him to "Get lost, you poor idiot" — also clung to him, becoming a slogan in the campaign for his defeat.

Sarkozy vowed he was a changed man and worked hard to be more "presidential," but then squandered his efforts by running a divisive campaign that overshadowed his achievements.

Instead of trying to unite the French around the efforts needed to tackle the country's towering debt burden, he chased after far-right National Front voters, declaring France had too many immigrants and needed tougher border controls.

He declared war on trade unions, casting them as impeding progress at the expense of "real" workers in the private sector.

The strategy backfired: It legitimized National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who won a record 17.9 percent in the first round of the election, and failed to reap the hoped-for rewards in the runoff.

A poll by Ipsos agency showed only 51 percent of FN voters had voted for Sarkozy on Sunday.

One of Sarkozy's other chief mistakes was to underestimate Hollande.

French media used the Aesop children's tale of the tortoise and the hare as a parable for the election.

Like the hare, Speedy Sarkozy, as he was dubbed, was convinced he would outrun the plodding Hollande, but the latter's consistency won the day.

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