François Hollande fights on

Article published on Dec. 1, 2016
Article published on Dec. 1, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

[OPINION] Impossible, unthinkable, unimaginable, inconceivable, extravagant, unreasonable! That was what was exclaimed again yesterday, after the eventual renaming of the president of the Republic as head of state. This incompetent of old, today enjoys a defiant and rather unusual credibility. Because indeed, François Hollande fights on.

The president of the Republic, at his lowest in the polls since his election in 2012, mocked in the media, challenged by his adversaries and even some of his own ministers, isn’t starting the end of his five year term and beginning of the 2017 electoral period in the best shape. And that’s putting it lightly. 

Except, since the Republican Primary, the surprise victory of François Fillon and the adoption by sympathisers of the right and of the centre of his conservative program, it would seem that François Hollande has new cards to play with for the presidential campaign in 2017.

In an irrational and cynical way, one must recognise that all the polls in the last significant elections were wildly misplaced: Brexit, Trump, the Green primaries, Fillon etc. In this vein, a president of the Republic with a confidence vote that lingers between 10 and 13% is an excellent candidate for victory.

In a more objective and rational manner however, it would seem that the candidate of the right and centre, François Fillon, is at risk of winning more votes from the right than from the centre. In effect, with his conservative program on moral, personal and social values and ultra-liberal stance on economic and financial questions, François Fillon will certainly capture a part of Marine Le Pen’s electorate. On the flipside, the centre-right and those undecided/ disappointed with “ hollandisme “ who aligned themselves with the values of Alain Juppé – unsuccessful candidate in the second round of the primaries, will without doubt turn towards the young Emmanuel Macron and François Bayrou, the president of the Democratic Mouvement, who nonetheless still hasn't officially announced his candidacy for the presidency.

Hollande, alone against the world

How could this all help François Hollande? The answer is far from clear, but it warrants reflection. Let's look at the electoral offer in France: on one side a hard and radical right, on the other an extreme right, populist and anxious, entangled in its troubled heritage, and in the centre, a young candidate, "anti-establishment" but without a party and counting on the 50-something electorate.  Finally, on the extreme left, a rebel, contested in his own camp by the communist party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  The Greens are rebuilding and their candidate, Yannick Jadot, doesn’t see himself a serious candidate for the Elysée. In summary, no candidate stands out at the moment, which helps the president twofold: the political climate is favourable to him, added to the fact that his candidature announcement means he is the only non-declared candidate and therefore not embroiled in campaigning.

Also, if there is a rule regarding the polls, it’s that every stable study over a matter of several years has been an illusion. We saw it with Alain Juppé, given winner for several months, but also with Hillary Clinton, both certs defeated at the ballot-box. Furthermore, it’s a strong bet that the Front National, who have dominated all the polls since 2013 with a stubborn 24% - 28% after the first round, risk dropping their percentage dramatically, perhaps so much so that they don't make it to the second round of the election. There is indeed an indecisive electorate here, who may just as likely vote right as vote left depending on the promises and proposals that they like.

This alone reinforces the position of the president, who could see himself legitimised by the primary that he recently won.  This will probably be the most complicated exercise for him: reconquering the core of the left, addressing his own, convincing them and giving them hope. Such is his fate, it remains to be seen if Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron, added to the list of declared candidates to the primary, are the only pretenders capable of beating him.