Robert Harneis - TDO - A sad and subdued President François Hollande has announced on national television that he will not be standing in the coming French Presidential elections. He confirmed what he said in his book ‘A President should not say that’ published last August, ‘I will not be a candidate if it is clear that there is no possibility of winning’. He is the first president of the 5th Republic not to present himself for re-election.
With five of his ministers already openly opposing him and unemployment figures at record levels of over 10%, he clearly realized that if he were to stand in the coming socialist primaries, he would not only be humiliated but would be the instigator of a rout of the Left in May. It is not obvious however that his standing down makes their situation much easier. The front running candidate to replace him is his Prime Minister Manuel Valls but Valls is totally implicated in every decision taken.
Hollande painted himself into a corner when he promised in 2012 that the downward trend in unemployment would be reversed and that he would not stand as a candidate if it was not. Government debt and deficit remain high. An interventionist foreign policy in Africa and Syria has not been enough to distract electors. Worse still they are at the heart of a highly unpopular wave of illegal immigration.
It is clear also that many voters have been unimpressed by the style of the President. He has lacked the gravitas, decisiveness and charisma that the French look for in their political leaders. Notably he was caught by a photographer visiting a woman friend disguised as a fireman on the back of a scooter.
The last two weeks has seen the elimination of Ex-President Sarkozy in the opposition primaries and the unexpected emergence of a strong candidate in the person of ex-Prime Minister François Fillon. This, in addition to the very strong showing of National Front Leader Marine Le Pen, may well have convinced Hollande that the public want new faces and a new approach.
Socialist elder statesman Jean-Pierre Chevènement summed up the situation in a one sentence communiqué, ‘François Hollande has found a dignified way out of a situation that was not dignified’.