French President François Hollande's announcement on Thursday that he would not seek re-election next year ahead of the presidential election in April and May next year, came as little surprise.
The withdrawal means the embattled Socialist leader is the first president of France’s fifth republic, founded in 1958, to serve only one term.
“I have decided that I will not be a candidate,” Hollande said in a televised statement from the Élysée Palace in Paris, admitting that he was unable to unite his fractured Socialist Party behind his candidacy.
“In the months to come, my only duty will be to continue to lead my country,” he said. Hollande all but acknowledged that he is the most unpopular president in French polling history.
“I am aware today of the risk posed by going down a route without sufficient support, so I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” he said.
Hollande’s approval ratings have plummeted due to terror attacks, high unemployment and non-stop embarrassing revelations about his private life. His withdrawal leaves the field open in the Socialist Party, which began accepting candidates on Thursday for a party primary race due on January 22 and 29.
Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, two former leftist ministers in Hollande’s administration, have already submitted their names. Manuel Valls, France’s ambitious prime minister, is also expected to stand.
Surveys tipped rightwing Les Républicains party candidate François Fillon to become the next president, with the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen seen as his closest challenger, but analysts urge caution about the forecasts as the full range of candidates are still unknown.
The role of independents such as 38-year-old former economy minister Emmanuel Macron could swing the outcome in favour of Le Pen.
Hollande’s decision not to seek re-election came on the same day as the French daily Le Monde, delivered a withering assessment of his presidential term. Le Monde warned in an editorial that the Socialists are imploding ahead of the presidential election as well as a parliamentary vote in June.
“The person who is most responsible is François Hollande, who spent a time in office without being able to add meaning to his term, and occupied the job without authority. while being unable to impose himself as the legitimate candidate for his party,” the daily declared.