‘Crumbling’ French Left Battles over Who Should Run for President

(Reuters) - France's Socialists on Sunday traded angry words over …

(Reuters) – France’s Socialists on Sunday traded angry words over who should run in next year’s presidential election, in a further sign of divisions in a party at odds over how to handle President Francois Hollande’s record unpopularity.

The incumbent traditionally seeks a second mandate in France but with Hollande commanding a rating of just 4 percent, his Socialist party has been thrown into disarray, encouraging others to join the race.

Benoit Hamon, a former education minister in Hollande’s government, talked of “a form of collapse” of the government. “This is what happens with policies that bewilder left-wing voters, those who once backed Francois Hollande,” he told BFM TV.

Hamon is now a contender in the January primaries that will appoint the Socialist presidential candidate.

Socialist firebrand Arnaud Montebourg, who was Hollande’s first economy minister, told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper: “Left-wing voters have not disappeared into thin air but they are angry, they feel they’ve been conned.”

Montebourg, who is also vying for the Socialists’ nomination for the April election, said no one trusted Hollande’s policies anymore.

Hollande was elected in May 2012 on a promise to tax the rich and help the poor while also declaring a war on finance. But many voters have been disappointed by his shift to a pro-business stance in 2014 and an attempted security crackdown that was ultimately shelved.

Even government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, one of his closest allies, admitted that many voters had doubts about Hollande.

However, Le Foll told Europe 1 that he still believed Hollande was the only candidate who could bring the “crumbling” Left together for the presidential election.

Hollande has said he would wait for December before deciding whether he will seek a second mandate, but he is widely expected to throw his hat in the ring.

The Socialists’ row burst into the open after the publication earlier this month of a bombshell book of interviews with Le Monde reporters, in which Hollande slams many of his own allies, but also magistrates or footballers, talks about “problems with Islam” and reveals conversations between other state leaders.

Even Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who according to French media is also considering a presidential bid if Hollande throws in the towel but has overall toed the president’s line, was quoted by Le Monde about his “shame” and “anger” with the book.

“He is at 4 percent in polls. I can’t see how he can come back and qualify the Left for the second round (of the presidential elections),” Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyon, told LCI, RTL and Le Figaro.

Collomb, who supports Emmanuel Macron, another Hollande former minister with presidential ambitions, laughed at the idea that he could be expelled from the Socialist Party for backing an outsider, in a further sign of the lack of control by Hollande and his allies over their party.

Macron, he said, was the only person who could bring the party together.

Opinion polls, however, show none of the Socialist candidates could win the election.

“The real problem for the Socialist Party is that there is no ideal candidate, no one who can bring everyone together,” said Francois Miquet-Marty of Viavoice pollsters. “Even if Francois Hollande gives up, there is no obvious candidate.”



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