Citizens of France were surprised but not necessarily shocked with current President Francois Hollande announced he would not seek re-election in 2017. The sitting president admitted rampant unpopularity as one of the key factors, though his speech took on a combative tone when he spoke about the conservative wing of French politics.
Hollande said his stepping aside would be a boon to his Socialist party’s attempts to win their fight against what he called “conservatism and, worse still, extremism… What’s at stake is not a person. It’s the country’s future…”
This announcement opened the door for the number two politician in the Socialist party to step up. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he’s ready to jump into what may well be an entertaining Socialist party primary in France. Would Valls seek the presidency for himself, many wondered. The PM played coy, saying he had yet to decide.
Hollande’s term in office was marred by the perception that he was too pro-business and not enough of a populist to appeal to the people who voted him into office. Meanwhile, his personal foibles didn’t help his cause.
Hollande was a frequent guest on the front pages of multiple European and the occasional American tabloid for his string of relationships while in office. His breakup with his partner Valerie Trierweiler made the news, as did reports of affairs, which came to light through a tell-all book by the spurned spouse, Trierweiler.
The book accused Hollande of a host of other sins, among them, hypocrisy, as it claimed he really didn’t care for the poor, actually disliked them. While this was not necessarily the reason his own party was split over Hollande’s presidency, their reasons were enough to push Hollande away from any real shot at holding his position.
And it sure didn’t take long for others to fill the gap he left. Former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and former Education Minister Benoit Hamon both threw their hats into the proverbial ring. That didn’t stop most political prognosticators from expecting Hollande would run again. But … as has turned out to be common on two continents in recent months, the talking heads got it wrong. Perhaps Hollande felt a change in the wind, even in the much more liberal culture of France.
What is very clear is that Hollande understood well his liabilities and the issues he faced from a PR perspective if he planned to run again. He chose, probably wisely, not to dive into the mess. Now he has a chance to re-brand himself as a statesman who cares more about France than about his own political career.
David Milberg is a financial analyst in NYC.