Hollande shocks France with decision not to seek another term.
Hopes move gives Socialists chance in election
PARIS | French President Francois Hollande announced Thursday that he would not seek a second term in next year’s presidential election, scrambling the political landscape and saying he hoped to give his center-left Socialist party a chance to win “against conservatism and, worse still, extremism” by stepping aside.
“I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” Mr. Hollande said in a surprising and somber address on French television that recapped his achievements since taking office in 2012.
The 62-year-old president — the country’s least popular leader since World War II — said he was “conscious of the risks” his lack of support posed to a his party’s election hopes and the country’s direction.
“What’s at stake is not a person, it’s the country’s future,” he said.
The Socialist party has been deeply divided over Mr. Hollande’s leadership, with rebels within the party openly criticizing his pro-business strategy and calling for more left-leaning policies. His popularity has also been hurt by his sometimes shaky handling of a string of spectacular terrorist attacks.
Two of his former colleagues, former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and former Education Minister Benoit Hamon, already have announced they would run in next month’s Socialist primary, alongside other low-profile candidates.
Like other Socialist contenders, Mr. Hollande faced a Dec. 15 deadline for entering the party’s primary ahead of next April’s national election.
His announcement nevertheless came as a shock to political commentators, many of whom had thought that the one-term Socialist leader was preparing to seek re-election despite being low in the polls. For weeks, Mr. Hollande had kept pundits in the dark and dropped hints that he hoped to continue in his job beyond next year.
In a September speech, he repeatedly suggested he was eyeing a re-election bid.
“I will not let the image of France be spoiled ... in the coming months or the coming years,” Mr. Hollande said at the time.
Members of his entourage, including government spokesman Stephane Le Foll and Finance Minister Michel Sapin, said in recent days that Mr. Hollande was in a legitimate position to run again and to unite the left.
Mr. Hollande repeatedly had said he would seek re-election only if he were able to curb the unemployment rate in France, which for years has hovered around 10 percent. The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the jobless numbers, but didn’t seem to quell the criticism.
His announcement Thursday came just a few days after his No. 2, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was “ready” to compete in the Socialist primary.
Mr. Valls praised Mr. Hollande’s “tough, mature, serious choice” in a written statement on Thursday night without saying if he would run for president. “That’s the choice of a statesman,” he said.
In his address, Mr. Hollande avoided saying if he would support Mr. Valls — or any other candidate. The president’s office — denying rumors of an internal battle — said the two men had their weekly working lunch on Monday at the Elysee Palace in a “cordial and studious atmosphere.”
An at-times emotional Mr. Hollande said during his televised remarks that he was standing aside so the Socialists would have a better chance of holding on to power, which he said was for the “interest of the country.”
Whichever candidate Socialist voters choose in January will face former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, among other rivals, in the two-round presidential election in April and May. Mr. Fillon, 62, who won France’s first-ever conservative presidential primary on Sunday, has promised drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism.
Polls suggest the sober, authoritative 62-year-old Mr. Fillon would have a strong chance of winning the general election amid the widespread frustration with France’s current leadership.
French President Francois Hollande announced Thursday that he would not be seeking a second term, saying he hoped his decision would give his Socialist party a better chance in the next election.
Francois Fillon, conservative candidate for the French presidency, wasted no time slamming Mr. Hollande.