|"My real adversary has no name...it's the world of finance" said Hollande to a crowd of 25,000 [EPA]
Francois Hollande, who is the clear favourite to win the French presidency by defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy when voting takes place in April, set out his political agenda at his biggest campaign event yet on Sunday.
Hollande, hoping to secure his front-runner status with Sunday's speech to a crowd of 25,000, vowed change and to restore global faith in his crisis-hit country.
"I am aware of my task: embodying change, getting the left to win and renewing faith in France," Hollande, 57, said to rapturous applause at the outset of his 90-minute speech at Le Bourget.
"We are here, my dear friends, to change our country's destiny. I'm ready to assume my responsibilities and so to tell you what my conception is of the presidency, and what justifies my candidacy today", said Hollande in reference to charges that though popular in France, he is still a relative unknown globally.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Eric Pape, a political commentator in Paris, said that Sarkozy, whom two-thirds of the French people disapprove of, will likely attack the current front-runner with charges of "Hollande is not ready".
Addressing the criticism that he never served as a government minister, Hollande said "some people criticise me for never having been minister. When I see who they are today, I'm reassured!" he said, recalling that a campaigning the last successful Socialist presidential candidate, Francois Mitterrand, was criticised in 1981 for having been minister too many times.
"My real adversary has no name, no face, no party, it will never be a candidate, even though it governs... it's the world of finance," Hollande said.
With Sarkozy failing to deliver on his 2007 promise to bring unemployment down to five per cent, the economy will be on the fore-front of the French voters' minds.
As unemployment hovers at around 10 per cent five years after Sarkozy's initial declaration to return the nation to full employment, he will have to "convince the French that he can deliver for them in a way that he hasn't in the past five years" said Pape.
Shouting and waving his fist, Hollande said he would rein in banks with a law separating their loan-making businesses from their ``speculative'' operations.
Hollande also promised to cut his own pay by 30 per cent if elected president. He then went on to appeal to the youth by asking to be judged on the improvement in their lives at the end of his first term in 2017.
Opinion polls show the 57-year-old Socialist candidate, dubbed "Monsieur Normal" by the French public, defeating Sarkozy with an estimated 30 per cent of the vote in the April 22 first round and 57 per cent in a run-off two weeks later.
Centre-right Sarkozy is estimated to secure 23 per cent of the vote in the first round and 43 per cent in the May 6 run-off.
Reporting from the exhibition hall where cheering crowds waited for Hollande to take the stage, Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland said it was rare for a candidate to take such "a safe lead" this early in the election season.
Hollande, who was chosen as the Socialist candidate in an October primary, has built on his "Monsieur Normal" moniker to pitch his campaign as the alternative to Sarkozy's flamboyance. Asked "why you?" in an October interview, Hollande responded ``because I can beat Nicolas Sarkozy'' who has been shown to be increasingly unpopular in France.
Hollande is ``a man who has always been brave and sincere in his political expression, who always told the truth, as opposed to some (other) candidates on the left who cede to the temptation to promise too much,'' said Antoine Rouillard-Perain, a 22-year-old Parisian.
Hollande's platform calls for reversing cuts in education introduced by Sarkozy's government, a new work contract to encourage companies to hire young people and focus on reducing France's high state budget deficit.
Though Hollande is seen as the front-runner in the two-round election, he has little visibility outside France. Critics worry he has limited international experience to head a nuclear-armed nation.
He has never run a government ministry. During his 1997-2008 tenure as the Socialist leader, the party was weakened and fractured after two devastating presidential campaign defeats.
Hollande has so far spoken little of international affairs, other than calling for an unspecified "pact'' with Germany, the EU's economic engine, to spur Europe's ailing economy.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies