Segolene Royal joined her ex-partner and the father of her four children, Francois Hollande, for the first time on stage last night to support his bid to defeat her old nemesis, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Royal and Hollande, who studied together at the elite National School of Administration in the 1970s and worked for Socialist President Francois Mitterrand starting in 1981, separated in 2006 and split officially in June 2007 after Royal lost her presidential bid to Sarkozy.
Speaking at a rally in the Breton city of Rennes in western France, Royal, who was defeated by Hollande in the Socialist primary in October, urged the crowd of about 18,000 “from the bottom of my heart” to support “Francois.”
“I am passing the torch to the one who can win,” Royal, 58, told reporters in Rennes before the event. “The cause that the Socialists are fighting for is greater than us. We are here to serve this cause and not the reverse,” she said, pledging to “put aside her own ambitions.''
Seventeen days before the first round of the presidential election, the Socialists sought to show a united front to persuade wavering voters to pick Hollande over Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is running third in polls. Royal is bidding to ensure that the 17 million people who voted for her will again pick for the Socialist candidate.
The couple’s kids are also jumping into the fray.
Thomas Hollande, 27 and their eldest son, is volunteering on his father’s Internet campaign team. He created the online Radio Hollande and invited Royal as first guest on March 26. In 2007, he participated to his mother’s campaign.
Flora Hollande, an 18-year-old psychology student, participated in her mother’s primary campaign and posed for a glossy magazine Gala last month saying ‘‘I believe he can win.” The two other children, Julien and Clemence, have kept out of the public eye.
Hollande has consistently led Sarkozy in voter support, with 13 polls since mid-March giving him a lead of between six and 12 points in the May 6 runoff. French voters will cast their ballots among 10 candidates on April 22.
After losing the party nomination for this election, Royal began to work on Hollande’s behalf. She is participating in door-to-door campaigning in French towns, speaking out on radio and television shows and posting hundreds of posts on her Twitter Inc. account criticizing Sarkozy.
“Oh yes Mr. Sarkozy, with me France would have had another style, other results,” she wrote on March 6. She said he had “only one message: ‘I’m not responsible of this crisis.”
’’It’s a great, a beautiful reunion tonight because Segolene Royal is here,’’ Hollande said as he opened his hour-long speech. “She is here as the symbol of unity that we lacked in 2007, a powerful, irreversible unity. We are reunited tonight.” His partner, Valerie Trierweiler a journalist for Paris Match weekly magazine, and Royal shook hands before the speech, the first time that they’ve been photographed together.