Incumbent French President Hollande yesterday announced that he will not stand as a candidate in the presidential elections. In the entire history of the Fifth French Republic it is the first time that an incumbent president has announced his withdrawal in advance, despite the chance of re-election. Hollande thus accepts the consequences of his catastrophically poor approval ratings, which were recently in the single-digit percentage region. For its part the Socialist Party already announced quite some time ago that it would not support Hollande unconditionally with a renewed candidacy. Instead Hollande would have had to submit to a preliminary election by his party.
Given that the Republicans recently identified their candidate Fillon by means of preliminary elections, Hollande was under pressure to make an announcement regarding his intentions. With Hollande’s withdrawal, the number of socialist candidates in the race for the highest office of state is reduced. Prime Minister Valls is said to have a good chance, and he could be supported by Hollande. Valls would be a presidential candidate representing a large share of Socialists. His opponent on the left wing of the political and inner-party spectrum is Montebourg, who is decidedly against a neoliberal economic policy and in favour of a relaxation of austerity policy. Former economics minister Macron had by contrast already announced his intention of standing as an independent candidate in the elections. He himself is considered to be a “left-liberal” candidate, positioned politically between Valls and Fillon, but competing in particular with Valls for similar sections of the electorate.
Hollande’s rejection of the candidacy together with the question of whether Valls or Montebourg will stand for the Socialists are also likely to have a considerable impact on the outcome of the presidential election as such. If the Socialists nominate Prime Minister Valls, Macron and Valls could risk taking votes from each other. In particular the candidate of the right-wing populist FN would have a chance of benefiting from the nomination of Valls. In this case, besides nationally disposed voters Le Pen could also appeal to socially disadvantaged voter groups. There would then be a great deal of support for the theory that Le Pen, and Fillon who stands for a socially conservative and clearly liberal economic course, would enter the final ballot. In particular those voters standing towards the left in terms of social and economic policy would not find any appeal in either of the candidates in this scenario. Notwithstanding this, as things stand at present Fillon would be the favourite in the final ballot because many French people continue to reject Le Pen due to her nationalist views.
If, however, the Socialists unexpectedly nominate Montebourg, the outcome of the election is likely to be far more exciting. Even though Montebourg does not have broad support within the party, the Socialists would stand with him well left of the centre. On the one hand, Montebourg is likely to compete with Le Pen on economically protectionist and social issues, and on the other hand he would differentiate himself from Macron more distinctly than would Valls. Alongside the favourite Fillon a three-man race between Montebourg, Macron and Le Pen could emerge for the place in the final ballot.