Sarkozy defeated Socialist Segolene Royal by by 53.06 percent to 46.94 percent with 84 percent turnout, according to final results released early Monday. It was a decisive victory for Sarkozy's vision of freer markets and toughness on crime and immigration, over Royal's gentler plan for preserving cherished welfare protections, including a 35-hour work week that Sarkozy called "absurd."
"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.
There were few reports of unrest, despite 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." That abrasive style raised doubts over whether Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian refugee, could truly unite the increasingly diverse and polarized nation.
Sarkozy pledged in his victory speech to be president "of all the French, without exception." But that task will not be easy. The 52-year-old former interior minister inherits a nation losing faith in itself, paralyzed by worries over globalization, bitter at American dominance and saddled with social tensions.
Late Sunday, small bands of youths hurled stones and other objects at police at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, who 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.
For all his determination and talk of change, Sarkozy also 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.
"Like Thatcher in Britain, like Reagan in the United States, Sarkozy will change things," said supporter Thierry Gauvert, 55.
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.