Hollande exits, leaving left-wing field open

By Adam Plowright, Guy Jackson, AFP

PARIS — French President Francois Hollande’s dramatic announcement that he will not seek a second term opens the way for Prime Minister Manuel Valls to make a bid for power in next year’s increasingly open election. Hollande’s decision to bow to historically low approval ratings and step down next year opens up the left-wing field in an election that is proving more and more unpredictable. Valls, who had been a loyal prime minister to Hollande until recently but hinted at the weekend he might run against his boss in planned left-wing primaries, is now expected to throw his hat in the ring. Polls show however that no left-wing candidate will reach the second round of the election in May. Surveys currently tip the right-wing Republican candidate Francois Fillon to become president, beating far-right National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen in the runoff. But after a wave of populism swept Donald Trump to the White House and led Britons to vote to leave the European Union, no-one is dismissing Le Pen’s chances of victory. The full field of candidates remains unknown and the role of independents such as Hollande’s 38-year-old former economy minister Emmanuel Macron is difficult to predict. Torrid Presidency

In a solemn TV address Thursday in which he defended his troubled four years in power, Hollande said: “I have decided that I will not be a candidate.”

The 62-year-old Socialist has endured some of the lowest ratings of any post-war French president and a new poll released just before his announcement showed he would win just seven percent of votes in the first round of next year’s election. His term has been marked by U-turns on major policies, terror attacks, a sickly economy and embarrassing revelations about his private life. Valls hailed Hollande’s decision as “the choice of a true statesman.” The French press greeted the news with front-page headlines proclaiming “The End,” “Goodbye, president” and “Hollande gives up,” but there was also praise for his decision. “It is a rare politician who sees clearly enough to remove himself from power in the interests of the greater good,” the left-leaning Liberation said in an editorial. Some 80 percent of the French public said they approved of Hollande’s choice, according to a poll by Harris Interactive published Friday. Even if Valls now decides to stand himself, the Spanish-born premier faces an uphill task according to opinion polls which give him no more than 11 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential election. The Socialist party began accepting candidates on Thursday for its primaries, due to take place on Jan. 22 and 29. Failed to Rally Socialists Arnaud Montebourg, a leftist former economy minister, has already submitted his name. Fillon, the favorite for the election, said Hollande’s time in power “was ending with a political mess and the failure of power.”