Hol­lande shocks France with de­ci­sion not to seek an­other term.

Hopes move gives So­cial­ists chance in elec­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY THOMAS ADAMSON AND SYLVIE CORBET

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

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.

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