Exit Hollande, a leader who paralysed France

French outgoing President Francois Hollande (right) being escorted by his successor, Mr Emmanuel Macron, as he leaves the Elysee presidential Palace at the end of their handover ceremony yesterday.
French outgoing President Francois Hollande (right) being escorted by his successor, Mr Emmanuel Macron, as he leaves the Elysee presidential Palace at the end of their handover ceremony yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • When Mr Francois Hollande tapped Mr Emmanuel Macron as an aide in his 2012 presidential campaign, little did he know that he was taking advice from his eventual successor.

Nor could the French Socialist leader have foreseen that the liberal reforms championed by his protege would turn out to be his undoing.

At 62, Mr Hollande left office yesterday as one of France's least popular leaders after becoming the embodiment of his country's social and economic paralysis.

Mr Hollande had an easy touch with the public but quickly acquired a reputation for being wishy-washy, with detractors nicknaming him Flanby after a French brand of wobbly pudding.

Vowing to govern as "Mr Normal", he took the helm five years ago on a wave of goodwill from voters eager to turn the page on the "bling-bling" years of the flamboyant, brash Nicolas Sarkozy.

But Mr Hollande's term got off to an inauspicious start as rain drenched his inaugural parade. He set about implementing his left- wing agenda, vowing to "reverse the curve" of unemployment that had risen to around 10 per cent in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

He brought in economic liberal Manuel Valls as Prime Minister in March 2014 - and a certain Emmanuel Macron as Economy Minister that August. Their push to reform France's ossified labour market turned the dissent into outright rebellion within the party and anger on the streets.

 

Mr Hollande's paralysis as President, combined with revelations over his amorous peccadillos - he was caught cheating on the woman he called the love of his life, Ms Valerie Trierweiler - dragged down his approval ratings.

In one of the defining moments of his presidency, he led world leaders and one million Parisians in a march against terrorism after the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish store.

Despite his dismal poll ratings that at one stage plunged to 4 per cent, he held out the hope that a late improvement in unemployment figures would justify a re-election bid.

It was a hope he continued to nurture after Mr Macron walked out on the government and announced his own bid for the presidency.

"He knows what he owes me," he fumed after Mr Macron launched his own En Marche movement.

A tell-all book came out in October that made many wonder if he was his own worst enemy.

In A President Shouldn't Say That, a book of interviews by two journalists from Le Monde newspaper, Mr Hollande heaped scorn on the national football team and even his own government's policies.

He finally bowed out of contention in early December, becoming the first president of France's Fifth Republic, founded 58 years ago, to decide not to seek a second term.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Exit Hollande, a leader who paralysed France'. Print Edition | Subscribe