France’s President Francois Hollande announced in a surprise address Thursday that he would not seek a second term in next year’s presidential election, acknowledging that his personal unpopularity might cost his Socialist party the Elysee.
“I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said in the prime time slot on broadcast media, adding that he hoped by stepping aside to give the Socialists a chance to win “against conservatism and, worse still, extremism.”
The 62-year-old president — the country’s least popular leader since World War II — said he was “conscious of the risks” his lack of support posed to a successful candidacy.
“What’s at stake is not a person, it’s the country’s future,” he said.
The announcement Thursday came just a few days after Hollande’s No. 2, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was “ready” to compete in next month’s Socialist primary.
In his address Hollande avoided saying if he would support Valls — or any other candidate.
Hollande’s popularity plunged soon after he took power in 2012, and polls show most voters don’t want to see him stay in office.
Whichever candidate Socialist voters choose in January will face former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, among other rivals, in the two-round presidential election in April and May.
Fillon, 62, who won France’s conservative presidential primary on Sunday, has promised drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism.
Polls suggest the sober, authoritative Fillon would have a strong chance of winning the general election amid the widespread frustration with France’s current leadership.