Will he, won’t he? Hollande’s silence over primaries leaves Socialist Party in disarray

Philippe Wojazer, POOL, AFP | French President François Hollande in Paris on November 29, 2016

With just five months to go before France’s presidential elections, François Hollande has kept the country in suspense over whether he will run for a second term, throwing his Socialist Party into disarray.


Hollande has until December 15 to declare his candidacy in the left-wing primaries, which will be held in two rounds on January 22 and 29.

While he is widely expected to seek re-election, his continued silence has caused confusion among members of the Socialist Party, who have expressed their growing unease.

“People on the left are in despair at the situation,” Alexis Bachelay, a Socialist member of parliament, told French daily newspaper Le Parisien in an article published on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, one of Hollande’s closest friends, lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard, thrust the party into further chaos after raising the possibility the president could forsake the left-wing primaries altogether and run as an outside candidate.

“[Hollande] does not need to go before a family council, but before the people as a whole,” Mignard said on Monday.

With recent polls putting Hollande’s popularity between 4 and 15 percent, the possibility of him going it alone is remote. As the least popular president in modern French history, he desperately needs the support of his party if he hopes to secure a second term in office.

Socialist Party Chairman Jean-Christophe Cambadélis was quick to dismiss the idea on Tuesday, saying Hollande had told him “personally” he intended to participate in the primaries.

Poor prospects

As the country awaits Hollande’s official decision, there are rumours he could declare as early as this Thursday, with French media pointing to the president’s relatively light schedule as a clue.

Six people have announced their candidacies in the left-wing primaries so far, which has been organised by the Socialist Party along with the Democratic and Ecologists Union, the Democratic Front and the Ecologist Party.

Another six have said they will skip the primaries and run directly for the presidency, including Hollande’s former economy minister, independent Emmanuel Macron, and the far-left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

There has been much speculation that Prime Minister Manuel Valls could also throw his hat into the ring, after he told French daily newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that he was “ready” for the primaries in an interview published on Sunday.

The move came as a surprise to many, who saw it as a direct challenge to Hollande. But after meeting with the president on Monday, Valls downplayed speculation of a rift, saying there was no “crisis” between the two.

If Valls did run against Hollande in the primaries, he would almost certainly come out the victor, according to the polls. A recent study by Harris Interactive found that 65 percent of voters said they preferred Valls to Hollande as the left-wing nominee.

Yet it seems neither man stands a real chance of making it past the first round of the presidential election. A flash poll taken on Sunday – also by Harris Interactive – showed Valls and Hollande only winning 9 percent of the vote, placing them behind the conservative nominee François Fillon (with 26 percent), and the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen (with 24 percent), as well as Macron (with 13 to 14 percent) and Mélenchon (with 13 to 15 percent).

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