With almost 57 per cent of the vote, Francois Holland, a former party General Secretary was declared the French Socialist Party's presidential nominee in the second round of primaries held on Sunday.

Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille, former Labour Minister and the architect of France's 35-hour week who was his run-off rival, polled a little over 43 per cent of the 2.7 million votes cast. In seven months' time, when France goes to the polls to choose its next president, Mr. Holland will face incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Holland has never held ministerial office but he has been a party worker almost all his adult life and, as party chief, was the architect of several socialist victories in municipal, regional, legislative and European elections.

All the other socialist heavyweights who had had taken part in the first round pledged their support to him saying the party would be unified in its attempt to oust the right wing from power. The last time the Socialists won the presidential election was in 1988 when Francois Mitterrand was re-elected for a second seven-year term. Since then, the Socialists have notched up three presidential defeats in a row , their candidate Lionel Jospin suffering the ultimate humiliation in 2002, when he was knocked out of the first round by the extreme right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen.

Values of left

Over 2.7 million left wing voters participated in France's first-ever open primary to choose the Socialist candidate. The socialists had held a primary in 2007 too, but only party card holders were allowed to vote. This time the vote was extremely well organised with volunteers slogging to pull it off. Voting was open to anyone willing to fork out one euro and sign a declaration that he or she believed in the “values of the left”. The efficiency with which the vote was held and the large turn out — the Party had said it would consider the primaries a success if over a million people turned up to vote, had the right and the extreme right gnashing its teeth in anger.

Mr. Holland, the former companion of Segolene Royal and the father of their four children, had to fight free of his former partner's glamorous shadow. It was Ms. Royal, not he who was named Minister in successive Cabinets. In 2007, she won the socialist primaries with a convincing 60 per cent of the vote but failed to take the nation with her losing to Mr. Sarkozy by a margin of six per cent.

Now Mr. Holland appears to have come into his own. He has a new partner, has shed 10 kg and injected both seriousness and gravitas into his discourse though flashes of his famous wit and sense of repartee continue to surface. Mr Holland has tried to steer clear of the glamour that characterised his former companion, attempting to convey the image of a simple, caring man, genuinely interested in the well being of his compatriots.

The success of the Socialist primaries has left the Right badly mauled in terms of its popularity with the general public. Mr. Sarkozy has had to struggle to get coverage and in successive declarations he has appeared incapable, alongside his EU partners, of tackling Europe's financial crisis. Revelations of financial scandals and the unsavoury relationships between leaders of the governing UMP coalition and arms dealers and middlemen have further dented the government's image. This vote makes it even more difficult for the right to get its act together so that Mr. Sarkozy can win a second term in office.

“What is clear is that the Socialists, who just a year ago appeared unable to get their act into gear, have given the country a fabulous demonstration of unity in diversity and genuine participative democracy. They have rekindled a taste for politics amongst left wing voters. That can only be good for the democratic process,” said Nicolas Demorand, Editor of Liberation, the left wing daily.

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