Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hollande Defeats Sarkozy in France in Greece, Centrists Scramble to Form a New Government; Votes Signal Rejection of Austerity Efforts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hollande Defeats Sarkozy in France in Greece, Centrists Scramble to Form a New Government; Votes Signal Rejection of Austerity Efforts

Article excerpt

LONDON -- Voters in France and Greece redrew Europe's political map Sunday in a powerful backlash against the German-led cure for the region's debt crisis: painful austerity.

In France, voters swept Francois Hollande into the nation's highest office, ejecting President Nicolas Sarkozy and bringing the Socialists back to the Elysee Palace for the first time in 17 years.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, official results showed Mr. Hollande with 51.6 percent of the vote compared with Mr. Sarkozy's 48.4 percent, the Interior Ministry said. The turnout was a strong 81 percent.

Along with Germany's Angela Merkel, the blunt-talking Mr. Sarkozy was a chief architect of Europe's push to restore confidence in the euro through tough fiscal discipline. In contrast, Mr. Hollande vowed to focus on economic growth, arguing that the singular emphasis on spending cuts has weighted down Europe with recessions and soaring unemployment.

Yet potentially more disruptive to Europe's crisis management plans, furious voters in Greece dealt a powerful blow to traditional parties that backed the tough terms of the country's massive international bailout. The result left centrists in Athens scrambling to form a fragile new government against strengthened ranks of the far left and right. Even the leader of a center-right party that earned the most votes -- New Democracy -- backtracked on a pledge to support the bailout conditions late Sunday, casting fresh doubt on Greece's rescue deal and the nation's ability to remain within the eurozone.

With more than 83 percent of the vote counted, Antonis Samaras' New Democracy was leading with nearly 20 percent of the vote, which would give it 110 seats in the 300-member parliament. Socialist PASOK, which has spent 21 years in government since 1981 and stormed to victory with more than 43 percent in 2009, saw its support slashed to about 13.5 percent. It will have just 41 seats, compared with 160 in the last election.

Extremist Golden Dawn, which rejects the neo-Nazi label and insists it is nationalist patriotic, looked set to win about 7 percent of the vote, giving it 21 deputies in parliament -- a stunning rise for a group that earned just 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009.

Sunday's other big winner was Alexis Tsipras, the 38-year-old leader of the Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza, who saw his party poised for an unprecedented second place with 16.4 percent and 51 seats -- the first time in nearly 40 years that any party other than New Democracy or PASOK has held the spot.

Turnout stood at just over 64 percent -- a low figure for the country, where voting is officially compulsory, although no sanctions are applied for not casting a ballot.

The results in France and Greece came after a tumultuous few weeks in which the Dutch government fell and Britain's Conservative- led coalition received a licking in local elections. …

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