Hollande rules out fighting to stay on as president
Francois Hollande became the first president in modern French history to decide not to run for re-election in a shock announcement last night that paves the way for a war of succession on the left.
The live announcement from the Elysee Palace by Mr Hollande, France's least popular post-war leader with an approval rating that recently dipped to 4pc, was a surprise to even his innermost circle.
It opens the way for his prime minister, Manuel Valls, to join a growing cortege of pretenders to lead the left in presidential elections in April and May.
"I have decided that I will not be a candidate," Mr Hollande said. "In the months to come, my only duty will be to continue to lead my country."
Until that moment, he had left his Socialist Party and the country in the dark as to whether he would take part in primaries in January or try to go it alone.
The latest opinion polls suggested that only 7.5 per cent of the electorate would vote for him in next April's first round of elections, compared with 29 per cent for Francois Fillon, the newly elected right-wing nominee, and 23 per cent for Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National.
Mr Fillon said Mr Hollande's decision showed he was "lucid" about what he called "his clear failure".
In what appeared to be an elegy to his four and a half years in the Elysee Palace, Mr Hollande listed what he felt were his achievements in office, from hosting a historic climate conference in Paris to legalising gay marriage and keeping France together at a time of unprecedented terror attacks.
Insisting that his attempts at reversing stubbornly high unemployment - around 10 per cent - were starting to gain traction, he said he nevertheless had the "lucidity" to see it was too little too late.
"I cannot accept that the left drift apart, or breaks up," he said.
Mr Hollande's withdrawal leaves the field open for the divided ruling Socialist party which began accepting candidates yesterday for a party primary race due on January 22 and 29. These include leftists Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon. (© Daily Telegraph, London).