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Hollande’s inner circle questions chances for French president's re-election bid

Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP | French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, on Septembre 28, 2016

With six months to go before next year’s French presidential election, faith in France’s beleaguered leader François Hollande has plunged to a new all-time low, prompting fierce resistance to a potential re-election bid – even within his own party.


Since 2013, Hollande has suffered some of the lowest approval ratings of any post-war president and his government has presided over slow economic growth and persistently high unemployment.

Last week, an opinion poll showed that support for the president had dropped even further, hitting just 4 percent. The poll results followed the release of a book titled “A President Should Not Say That”, based on private interviews Hollande granted to investigative journalists. The book contains disparaging comments Hollande made toward the country’s judges (he called the judicial system “a cowardly institution”), his former partner and France’s national football team.

Although Hollande quickly insisted his comments had been misinterpreted, the news reportedly threw the Socialist party into a state of panic. The book was the last straw even for some of Hollande’s staunchest supporters who for the first time chose to distance themselves from the French leader.

First out was lower house speaker, Claude Bartolone, who expressed astonishment over the president’s judgment in making such comments at all and questioned whether “he [Hollande] really wants to be a candidate”. This was followed by a stinging attack by Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who openly stated Hollande was "not making things easy for himself".

In an interview with France Inter radio on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls also appeared to have watered down his support of Hollande running for a second term.

“It's a personal decision. He [Hollande] has to take the situation into account. He has to make sense of what his candidacy would mean, what a new term would mean. This decision belongs to him,” he said.

Hollande, who took office in 2012, has given himself until December to decide whether he intends to run for a second term or not.

Will Valls go for it?

But French media have now even gone as far as suggesting Valls himself is preparing to stand as candidate.

Before the book went on sale, Valls told his entourage that he would declare himself “immediately” if Hollande were to drop out, daily Le Monde reported.

The news was welcomed by several Socialist lawmakers. “If the president says ‘I’m not going’, Manuel could be in a position to go for it. We should think about it,” MP Hugues Fourage was quoted as telling Reuters news agency.

France’s main Sunday newspaper, Le JDD, last week reported that the Socialist Party is also considering Environment Minister Ségolène Royal, as a potential replacement candidate for Hollande. Royal was the party's presidential candidate in 2007 and is the mother of Hollande’s four children. Although she has brushed aside the speculation, Royal has not denied an interest in running as candidate.

But two former ministers of Hollande’s government, Emmanuel Macron on the right and Arnaud Montebourg on the left, could also be vying for the top spot in a bid by the Socialists to avoid defeat in the two-round election scheduled for April and May.

Won’t make it to the second round’

Due to the divisions within the Socialist party, however, opinion polls currently suggest that the winner of the Republican party primary vote will win the presidential election, most likely in a run-off against far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Socialist party chief Cambadélis on Sunday said that taking current trends into account, he did not envisage any Socialist candidate winning the election, or even making it into the second round.

“At this stage no putative candidate, whoever he is, seems able to beat the right. And even pass the first round,” he said.

If Hollande decides to run for a second term, he could become the first sitting French president to have to face a challenge for his own party’s nomination. How his party votes will be decided in a primary scheduled for January.

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