PARIS (AP) — Francois Hollande was formally installed Saturday as the Socialist Party candidate in presidential elections six months away, and he vowed to re-enchant the French after five years of conservative leadership under President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande led a frontal attack on Sarkozy — who has not yet declared his candidacy for the two-round elections in April and May but is expected to do so — dismissing criticism by the president's allies that he lacks the experience to lead the country.
"Now, to be president, one must already have been one," he said sarcastically. "The right counts on the (economic) crisis to save itself. I propose the French count on the left to save them from the crisis."
The 57-year-old Hollande spoke forcefully, clearly meant to counter the bland, uncharismatic image he portrayed during 10 years at the helm of the Socialist Party.
"The change we want now has a name, Francois Hollande," current party leader Martine Aubry, anointing Hollande as candidate, told a party convention.
Hollande defeated Aubry by a large margin in an Oct. 16 vote to win the Socialist nomination after three rounds of debate.
Among the five others defeated by Hollande was his former companion, Segolene Royal, mother of his four children — who challenged Sarkozy in 2007 elections. All were among the hundreds of militants at the rousing convention to kick off Hollande's candidacy.
Sarkozy's party, the Union for a Popular Movement, has criticized Hollande as lacking the experience and stature for the job and proposing costly social programs that will drain the state's coffers in a time of economic crisis and belt-tightening.
During a lengthy speech, Hollande relentlessly attacked Sarkozy's administration as one that failed to keep its word.
"Nicolas Sarkozy was supposed to be the president of those who work harder to earn more," he said, taking up a phrase that came to symbolize the president. In the end, he was "the president of those who earn more without working."
Hollande spelled out his program, promising foreigners residing here, if he is elected, the right to vote in local elections, a divisive topic in France. But he made the nation's youth his priority, vowing among other things to create 60,000 posts in the educational system trimmed back under Sarkozy.
"I want to be judged on the prospects and the hope that I leave for the youth of France," he said.
(This version corrects date of last presidential election to 2007.)