PARIS – French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy plans to waste no time pushing through a weighty package of pro-market, anti-crime reforms — but the first battle is winning a majority in parliament in new elections next month.
Sarkozy, a pro-American conservative and an immigrant's son, defeated Socialist Segolene Royal by 53.06 percent to 46.94 percent with an 85 percent voter turnout, according to final results released early Monday.
The win gave Sarkozy a strong mandate for his vision of France's future: He wants to free up labor markets, calls France's 35-hour work week "absurd" and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration.
"The people of France have chosen change," Sarkozy told cheering supporters in a victory speech that sketched out a stronger global role for France and renewed partnership with the United States.
Exit polls offered some surprises. Some 49 percent of blue-collar workers — traditionally leftist voters — chose Sarkozy, according to an Ipsos/Dell poll. Some 32 percent of people who usually vote for the Greens and 14 percent who normally support the far-left also went with Sarkozy. The poll surveyed 3,609 voters and had a margin of error of about 2 percent.
A headline Monday in Les Echos newspaper, a financial daily, read: "President Sarkozy: a wide majority for reforming the country in depth."
Still, his task will not be easy. Sarkozy is certain to face resistance from powerful unions to his plans to make the French work more and make it easier for companies to hire and fire.
Sarkozy planned to stay out of the public eye for a few days, said Francois Fillon, an adviser often cited as a candidate for prime minister. Sarkozy "will retire to somewhere in France to unwind a little ... and to start organizing and preparing his teams," Fillon told TF1 television.
The new president plans to take over power from outgoing leader Jacques Chirac on May 16. Fillon said Sarkozy's new government would be installed May 19 or 20.
The election left little time for celebrating: Legislative elections are slated for June 10 and 17, and Sarkozy's conservative UMP party needs a majority to keep his mandate for reforms. A win by the left would bring "cohabitation" — an awkward power-sharing with a leftist prime minister — which would put a stop to his plans.
Sarkozy, 52, has drawn up a whirlwind agenda for his first 100 days in office and plans to put big reforms before parliament at an extraordinary session in July. One bill would make overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more. Another would put in place tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, and still another would toughen up the criteria for immigrants trying to bring their families to France.
On election night, scattered violence was reported around France. There had been fears that the impoverished suburban housing projects, home to Arab and African immigrants and their French-born children, would erupt again at the victory of a man who labeled those responsible for rioting in 2005 as "scum." Police reported that 270 people were taken in for questioning and that 367 parked vehicles had been torched. On a typical night in France, about 100 cars are burned.
That abrasive style raised doubts over whether Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian refugee, could unite a politically polarized, increasingly diverse nation.
Late Sunday, small bands of youths hurled stones and other objects at police at the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Some bared their backsides at riot officers behind their shields, and police fired volleys of tear gas. Two police unions said firebombs targeted schools and recreation centers in several towns in the Essonne region just south of Paris.
In Sarkozy's victory speech, he reached out to those he has alienated in the past, promising to be president "of all the French, without exception."
The White House said President Bush had called to congratulate Sarkozy, who is largely untested in foreign policy but reached out to the United States in his victory speech, an indication of his desire to break from the trans-Atlantic tension of the Chirac era.
Sarkozy also made it clear that France would remain an independent voice.
The United States, he declared, can "count on our friendship," but he added that "friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions."
He urged the United States to take the lead on climate change and said the issue would be a priority for France.
"A great nation, like the United States, has a duty not to block the battle against global warming but — on the contrary — to take the lead in this battle, because the fate of the whole of humanity is at stake," Sarkozy said.
In some European capitals, Sarkozy's victory inspired hope that he might lend a decisive hand to efforts to salvage the European Union's hopes of greater integration, largely on hold since French and Dutch voters rejected a proposed EU constitution in 2005.
The hand-over of power ushers in a president from a new generation, who has no memory of World War II and waged the country's first high-octane Internet campaign.
Royal would have been France's first female president. Her defeat could throw her party into disarray, with splits between those who say it must remain firm to its leftist traditions and others who want a shift to the political center like socialist parties elsewhere in Europe.
Following the defeat, high-ranking Socialist Bernard Kouchner, the former health minister who co-founded Doctors Without Borders, immediately called for the party to stop courting the far-left and ally the center. "We have to change our formatting, our ways of thinking, on the left," he told TF1.