France presidency: Hollande's move a 'relief' for Socialists

By Hugh Schofield
BBC News, Paris

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Francois Hollande said he could not accept seeing the Socialists falling apart

Francois Hollande's decision not to stand again for the presidency comes as a huge relief to the French Socialist Party, and probably to himself as well.

He - no doubt - mulled it hard and long. It is, after all, something of a humiliation to be the first president under the Fifth Republic to decide he's not good enough to run for a second term.

And yet how much more of a humiliation would it have been to stand in the presidentials and be wiped out by Marine Le Pen in round one?

Or worse, to be eliminated in the Socialists' own primary in January?

Because the truth is Francois Hollande had lost touch not only with the country - but also with his own camp.

The clincher seems to have been the book which came out two months ago - called A President Should Not Say That - in which two Le Monde journalists quoted a myriad of indiscretions made to them by the president over the course of his mandate.

Socialist deputies swooned with exasperation. Le Monde called it an act of political suicide.

For many in the party, this was the moment when it became obvious that Mr Hollande had parted company with any serious chance of re-election.

'Les frondeurs'

Throughout his career, Mr Hollande's guiding principle has been to synthesise. It mattered not what path he took, as long as in general it was half-way between the party's left and the party's right.

That way, he was always the indispensible compromise candidate who saved the party from pulling itself in two.

But now both left and right in the party have had enough.

The left has for years felt the president had betrayed their principles. In parliament there has been a solid bloc of MPs known as "les frondeurs" (or the rebels).

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Hollande's successor? Manuel Valls (right) has suggested he will run in the Socialist primaries

But now the right - in the form of Mr Hollande's own Prime Minister Manuel Valls - has come to the same state of despair.

In recent weeks, Mr Valls has been more and more audacious in his public comments about the president. On Monday, there was a lunch between the two men at the Elysee Palace, which on the face of it ended in a truce.

In reality this was probably the moment when Mr Valls told President Hollande that he was ready to do battle. Whatever Mr Hollande's decision, he (Manuel Valls) was going to run as a candidate. So to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, maybe Mr Hollande should do the decent thing.

Figuratively speaking, he left the revolver on the president's desk.

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