France was all aflutter this week, and it was not with snow. Word came down the wire that President Hollande would address the nation on Thursday evening at 8:00 pm. An unscheduled presidential address? This was breaking news!
Given our president’s historically unparalleled unpopularity, and the fact that the centre-right has now chosen François Fillon as its candidate for next spring’s presidential election, we did have a wee hint that it might have something to do with politics. That we might finally get an answer to the question: Would he or wouldn’t he?
Hollande hemmed and he hawed and took several long minutes to reflect upon the many successes of his administration, from same-sex marriage to lower unemployment, as viewers across the nation cried: “Accouche!” Quite literally to give birth, in this context it means – spit it out!
Then he finally uttered the words we had all been waiting for: “J’ai décidé de ne pas être candidat à l’élection présidentielle.” He would not stand for re-election.
Enfin! We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Flanby, as the Guignols de l’info fondly baptized Hollande years ago, has lived up to his name. The popular brand of crème caramel always seemed to fit the man: wet, wobbly, bland. If only his politics had not lived up so well to his image. If only during his campaign in 2012 he had not uttered those famous first words:
“Moi, président de la République…”
He would be the people’s president, he promised, and his behaviour would be exemplary at all times. This just months before his not-so-secret dalliance with actress Julie Gayet was revealed on the cover of Closer, followed by a painfully public breakup with journalist Valérie Trierveiler, for whom he had previously left his long-time companion and the mother of his four children, fellow politician Ségolène Royal. Et oui, French politics are not for the faint of heart.
By choosing not to run, Hollande has demonstrated the dignity to acknowledge his failures and, in doing so, possibly save his party from total ruin. Will a worthy candidate emerge from the rubble? I doubt it. Prime Minister Manuel Valls is looking like the most likely contender, and if ever there was an unlikeable politician, it is he. The last thing we need is another petit nerveux, his deep-voice and close-set eyes sternly reminding us of how wrongly we have all behaved.
It’s easy to criticize, I hear you say. What would you do if you were president?
I would get rid of party politics. Emmanuel Macron, who resigned from his position as an economy minister in Hollande’s government in August to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election, has taken a step in this direction. While I don’t think he is quite ready for the presidency, at the tender age of thirty-six years or practically in his infancy in French politics, I do think he has the right idea.
I would advocate for a 6th Republic. While I’m not for the Marxist revolution sought by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and those on the far left, there are just too many institutions to change in France without starting afresh. We need to rewrite the constitution to redistribute power in a more democratic way.
Last but surely not least, I would conduct my own personal French revolution by making public toilets clean, free and readily available on every corner.
What would you do if you were president?