Francois Hollande will not seek second term as France’s president

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech after awarding the Legion of Honour (Legion d'Honneur) and the National Order of Merit (Ordre National du Merite) to Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Lionel Bonaventure/Pool Photo via AP

PARIS – French President Francois Hollande announced Thursday that he would not seek a second term in next year’s presidential election, saying he hoped to give his Socialist party a chance to win “against conservatism and extremism” by stepping aside.

“I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said in a sombre address on French television that recapped his achievements since taking office in 2012.

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The 62-year-old president – the country’s least popular leader since World War II – said he was “conscious of the risks” entailed in him running, alluding to his historic lack of support since coming to power.

The Socialist party has been deeply divided over Hollande’s policies, with rebels within the party openly criticizing his pro-business strategy and calling for more left-leaning policies. Two of his former cabinet ministers, Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, already have announced they would run in next month’s Socialist primary, alongside other low-profile candidates.

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Hollande repeatedly had said he would seek re-election only if he were able to curb the unemployment rate in France, which for years has hovered around 10 per cent. The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the jobless numbers, but didn’t seem to quell the criticism.

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Hollande was expected to say in the coming weeks whether he would seek to run again but Thursday’s announcement came just a few days after his No. 2, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was “ready” to compete in the Socialist primary.

Valls, who polled slightly higher than his boss, is widely expected to jump into the primary field.

Whoever is chosen by the Socialists will face former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who won France’s first-ever conservative presidential primary on Sunday after promising drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, is expected to be a major competitor in the two-round presidential election in April and May.

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