Valls pulls out of election race

Valls pulls out of election race

From left Manuel Valls, François Hollande, Jean Asselborn and Jean-Marc Ayrault at the Progressive Summit in Paris this August. Source: Flickr

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has pulled out from a possible rival bid to President François Hollande in April’s presidential election as the socialist government descended into chaos. 

They met at the Elysée Palace after tensions over who should run for the centre-left became public. The socialists are in disarray and facing an electoral rout.

“Especially at a time when France is facing the threat of terrorism, there cannot be any political confrontation in a primary between a president and a prime minister,” an AFP source quoted Valls as telling the president.

Valls fed speculation that he was preparing to stand against Hollande on Sunday when he refused to rule out a rival candidacy. He told Le Journal du Dimanche that Hollande’s position had weakened further following the publication of a book of confessions to journalists.

“I have a respectful, friendly and loyal relationship with the president. But loyalty does not exclude frankness. We have to admit that over the past weeks, the context has changed,” Valls told the paper.

The comments were perceived as a provocation by Hollande’s loyalists, who have reportedly urged the president to sack Valls.

The socialists are due to hold a primary contest to select its candidate in January. They are reeling from years of stagnation under Hollande as well as high unemployment and the fall-out from Islamist attacks. Fillon’s victory and the rise in popularity of National Front leader Marine Le Pen represent a growing move away from traditional politics. Many now expect next year’s presidential race, which starts with the first round in April, to end up in a runoff between Fillon and Le Pen.

For months, polls have suggested that Hollande, or any other socialist candidate, would fail to qualify for a second round run-off in May, finishing below Hollande’s former protégé Emmanuel Macron, now an independent, and the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

October’s publication of “A President shouldn’t say that …”, in which Hollande is quoted criticising his own party and discloses classified material to the media has angered his colleagues, led to demands for his prosecution from the opposition and sent his approval ratings down to a new low of 4 per cent.

The nomination of François Fillon as the centre-right candidate has apparently rekindled weak hopes of a Hollande victory.

Fillon’s free-market stance would “reinforce the traditional right-left divide” and help Hollande to unify the party against the right’s alleged attempt to destroy France’s welfare state, said Luc Rouban, a researcher at CNRS.

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