Ségolène Royal is regarded by her Socialist party as the best candidate to run against right-of-center Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections in April.
France's Socialist Party presidential hopeful Segolene Royal
Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for the French national elections in April, won a decisive victory early Friday morning, making her the first woman ever to have a realistic chance of becoming president of the republic.
The 53-year-old regional leader from Melle, a village in her constitutency of Poitou-Charentes, enjoyed a huge lead of 60.6 percent over her established rivals, former finance minister Dominque Struass Kahn with 21 percent and former prime minister Laurent Fabius with 18.5 percent of the party's vote.
"The fact I have been chosen in this way is extraordinary. I want to embody change and give it credibility and legitimacy," Royal told reporters. "I think that tonight this legitimacy has been given to me and for this I want to thank party members from the bottom of my heart."
Dubbed the "darling of the polls," Royal was regarded as the candidate with the best chance of beating the likely conservative nominee, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. She was also viewed as the candidate who best represented a much-needed change from politics-as-usual in France, which was the key to her meteoric rise in the polls.
Royal, Sarkozy tied in the polls
An Ipsos opinion poll published in the French weekly Le Point predicted an even draw if Royal and Sarkozy faced each other.
Royal's likely challenger, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Royal was elected to the National Assembly in 1988, and has served as environmental and family minister. In 2004, she was elected president of Poitou Charantes. It was a stunning victory that propelled her into the national limelight.
During the campaign, Royal cultivated a grass-roots, populist image, calling for "citizen juries" to judge the performance of elected officials, and focused on social issues such as juvenile deliquents, crime and education. Critics dismiss her as a lightweight, inexperienced in foreign policy and economic matters, and say that her candidacy was based more on style than substance.
The Socialists hope that Royal could help heal the rift the party suffered from last year's referendum on the EU's constitutional treaty, which France rejected.
Born in Senegal, where her father was stationed with the French army, Royal graduated from Sciences Po and the l´École Nationale d'Administration, two elite institutions which have produced generations of French leaders. At l'ENA, she met her partner Francois Hollande, who is head of the Socialist party and father of her four children.