French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on the ropes after finishing behind Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in the first round of France's presidential election. Both candidates returned to the campaign trail on Monday after the weekend vote, battling for supporters of the eight fallen candidates ahead of a head-to-head, May 6 run-off. Hollande has the upper hand, with polls showing him 10 percentage points ahead of Sarkozy. Just who is the man threatening to unseat the flashy, controversial Sarkozy, and what are his plans for France? Here, a brief guide:
Who is Hollande?
He's a jovial but sharp-witted member of Parliament from the south-central Correze region, a cattle-breeding plateau once represented by two-time conservative president Jacques Chirac. Hollande has never served as a government minister — a hole in his resume critics say shows a lack of experience. Hollande had devoted his career to local political concerns and internal Socialist Party matters — holding the party together as its first secretary from 1998 to 2007 — until an unexpected event made him an instant frontrunner.
What was that?
The spectacular fall from grace of the party's leading candidate, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose political career came crashing down after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2011. The charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped, but Hollande — until then best known as the former partner of 2007 presidential candidate Segolene Royal — had already become the party's preferred candidate.
How did Hollande convince voters he was presidential material?
Hollande transformed himself, losing more than 30 pounds of un-presidential fat and replacing his nerdy spectacles with fashionable ones, vowing to do the same for France, by replacing the brash Sarkozy with a "normal president" who can put the country, and Europe, "back on the path of economic growth and employment."
How does he plan to do that?
Hollande wants to scrap the current austerity push Sarkozy and other European leaders are using to address debt troubles. The center-left Hollande isn't looking to repeat the government spending sprees of France's last Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. Instead, he plans to balance the budget just a year later than Sarkozy's budgets would, paying for his priorities, such as creating 60,000 new teaching jobs, with measures such as a 75 percent tax rate on millionaires.
Sources: Associated Press, Business Recorder, Financial Times, Reuters
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