French president François Hollande’s chances of winning a second term did not look good — the Socialist president has some of the most abysmal approval ratings in the history of the office. On Thursday, he apparently acceded to that reality and announced that he would not seek reelection in 2017.
Hollande made it official on French television, telling the public he wanted to give his leftist party the chance to beat “conservative and extremism.” By bowing out, Hollande is opening the way for a more viable leftist candidate to run against a very extreme center-right Republican candidate in Francois Fillon, and an even more extreme candidate in the far-right Marine le Pen of the National Front.
“I am aware of the risks that going down a route that would not gather sufficient support would entail,” Hollande said in his speech, “so I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election.”
Hollande took office in 2012, defeating the center-right Nicolas Sarkozy. But his popularity has tanked, accelerated by France’s economic woes and high-profile terrorist attacks — including the Paris attacks last November that killed 130.
The Socialist Party will pick its candidate in January. Emmanuel Macron, Hollande’s former economic minister, and Arnaud Montebourg, the former industry minister, have launched leftist bids for the presidency, as has the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in fourth among the Socialists in 2012. A likely contender — and possibly the front-runner once he declares — will be Manuel Valls, the French prime minister.
Hollande is the first French president since 1958 not to seek a second term, but, as Americans can appreciate, French politics are also in a state of turmoil. Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti–European Union platform has seen a surge in support, though she probably won’t edge out Fillon, who’s favored to win it all. (Presidential elections take place in April and May.) Fillon is a Margaret Thatcher fan and social conservative who ran on a platform of harsher immigration rules and closer ties with Russia. If that sounds familiar, he apparently also takes to Twitter to eviscerate political rivals, writing after Hollande’s announcement: “This evening, the President of the Republic admits with lucidity, that his patent failure prevents him from going on further.”
He added: “This five-year term is ending in a political mess and the dissolving of power.”
At least it all sounds better in French.