PARIS, Friday, Nov. 17 — Ségolène Royal moved a step closer to becoming the
first female president of France early Friday, crushing her two male rivals for
the Socialist Party nomination in next April’s election.
With most of the vote in, Ms. Royal, 53, a regional president and former
minister, won 60.6 percent of the vote of the party’s nearly 219,000 members in
an unusual primary.
Her closest rival, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 57, a former finance minister,
received 20.8 percent of the vote, and Laurent Fabius, 60, a former prime
minister, 18.5 percent.
The tally in France ended around 1:30 a.m. and will be complete after
overseas territories finish voting.
“I am living intensely this moment of happiness,” Ms. Royal said after the
preliminary results were announced. Thanking the party’s “grass roots” members,
she added, “The fact of receiving this momentum, of being chosen in this way,
this is something extraordinary. I think that the French people have written
The victory helped validate Ms. Royal’s standing as the only candidate
capable of beating the right’s frontrunner, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister who is seeking
his UMP party’s nomination for the 2007 presidential election.
An Ipsos opinion poll released on Thursday put Ms. Royal and Mr. Sarkozy in a
dead heat if they were to face off in a second round of voting.
Ms. Royal’s victory followed months of mudslinging and maneuvering in a
campaign that pitted her against the party’s older, more established — and male
— “elephants,” whom she had dared to challenge.
Campaigning on a platform of “rupture” with the status quo, she has also
capitalized on her femininity while accusing her competitors of chauvinism.
“Gazelles,” she said last May, “run faster than elephants.”
Responding to voters’ disillusionment with traditional elitist politics, she
is promising more power to the people, giving local governments more authority,
subsidizing small businesses, creating affordable housing and encouraging
citizens to submit their ideas online, for example.
Even her opponents agree that her looks help. Published photos of her in a
bikini while on vacation underscored her youthfulness and glamour, while in poll
after poll, her telegenic smile and elegant profile have appealed to a French
public yearning for a new style of leadership.
Ms. Royal, president of the Poitou-Charentes region in the west, has also
cultivated an image as a grass-roots nurturer, taking her campaign to the
countryside to listen to concerns about social issues such as educational reform
and youth crime.
With a portfolio that includes stops at three second-tier ministries —
Environment, School Education and Family and Childhood — Ms. Royal has been
criticized as lacking the experience and gravitas to lead a country that is a
Her inexperience in foreign policy issues surfaced last week when she said
during the last campaign debate that Iran should never be allowed to have a
civilian nuclear energy program. As her opponents quickly pointed out, Iran
enjoys that right as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
But the party members’ enthusiasm for Ms. Royal seemed to trump any slips on
“Her victory means that the Socialist Party is still under the shock of April
2002 and is looking above all for a candidate who can win,” said Dominique
Reynié, a professor of political science at the Institut d’Études Politiques in
Paris. “Much more important than a doctrine or a program is the look of a
In the April 2002 presidential election, the Socialist candidate, Prime
Minister Lionel Jospin, was eliminated in the first round,
trailing even the far-right National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Going into the primary, Ms. Royal enjoyed a strong lead in the polls,
although she had lost ground steadily in recent weeks to Mr. Strauss-Kahn,
largely because of his performance in their six policy debates, three of which
Ms. Royal was helped by the withdrawal from the race in September of Mr.
Jospin, a fixture in French politics for nearly three decades.
The fourth of eight children, Ms. Royal was born in Dakar, Senegal, where her
father was an army colonel, and earned admission to the elite École Nationale
It was there that she met Francois Hollande, her partner of 25 years and the
father of their four children. The head of the Socialist Party who is believed
to have harbored presidential aspirations of his own, Mr. Hollande has remained
Ms. Royal was repeatedly attacked in the campaign as naïve and inexperienced.
In addition to questioning her foreign policy background, her opponents and
other critics mocked her proposal to create “citizens” juries to pass judgment
on the work of elected officials, calling it dangerously populist, costly and
irrelevant. At one rally in Paris last month when she discussed the issue, she
was booed repeatedly.
During one debate, she defended her call for a less centralized, more
representative form of government, saying: “Democracy is like love. The more
there is of it, the more it grows.”
She has also been criticized by her rivals for playing the woman card. At a
rally in Paris last Monday, she quoted Mr. Strauss-Kahn as having said after
their final debate that “she would have done better to stay at home instead of
reading from her recipe cards.”
Asked by Europe 1 radio Wednesday whether she was a liar, Mr. Strauss-Kahn
replied, “That, or she is ill-informed.”
While opinion polls put her far ahead as the vote approached, it had been
impossible to say whether those projections would be borne out in Thursday’s
primary. Only party members who pay about $25 a year to register officially were
allowed to vote in the primary. Their views had never been polled because the
Socialist Party refused to give its membership list to polling institutes. In
addition, a full third of the party’s members joined this year after a campaign
to register new and younger members.
There have been two Socialist primaries before, but they were low-key affairs
and they did not follow a campaign to enroll new members or televised debates
similar to those in the United States.
In January, the UMP party will choose its candidate in a primary for the
Despite Mr. Sarkozy’s overwhelming lead in the polls, there are signs that 12
years might not be enough for President Jacques Chirac. In an interview in the magazine Le
Nouvel Observateur, his wife, Bernadette, suggested that he might seek an
unprecedented third term.
As a former president, the 73-year-old head of state has the right to sit on
the country’s Constitutional Council once he is no longer president.
“Yes, he’ll take it up,” Mrs. Chirac said of the council. “In five years’
Mr. Chirac himself has said he will not make his intentions known before next