Hey Oh! Hollande’s allies launch battle to boost image

Bitterly divided French socialists have been urged to wake up and join a movement that aims to help President François Hollande get re-elected. But it's an uphill struggle.

Hey Oh! Hollande's allies launch battle to boost image
Hey Ho Hollande. Photos: AFP

French President Francois Hollande's allies have launched a battle to burnish the image of the deeply unpopular leader, who some in the fractured left still see as their best hope for elections next year.

The presidential ambitions of upstart Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and the latest string of anti-government protests are but two of the headaches facing Hollande.

But his camp is working hard to extol the government's positive achievements, and this week launched an initiative called “He Oh La Gauche!” (Hey – The Left!) — a sort of jab in the ribs to rally the left.

This is no easy feat when Hollande is plumbing the depths of public opinion — in a poll this week, only 17 percent thought he was a good president. And his Socialist Party and the left in general are deeply divided.

“The moment has come for us to wake up. We are here to mobilise and defend our achievements,” government spokesman and Hollande ally Stephane Le Foll told the first meeting of the new movement on Monday night, attended by about 600 people.

Philippe Marliere, a professor in French politics at University College London, told AFP the initiative showed that “alarm bells are ringing” for the left, one year ahead of presidential elections due in May 2017.

“This exercise comes at a very difficult time for Hollande and the Socialist Party, to show they are not dead yet, they intend to fight,” he said.

“It is a gathering of people who are there to — it is a bit surreal — support a presidential candidate who hasn't announced his candidacy yet,” said Marliere.

Hollande is trying hard to convince the French that things have improved, with growth inching upwards and unemployment slowly falling.

This idea received a boost with new figures Tuesday showing a steep drop in job-seekers in March.

Conspicuous by his absence at the meeting was Macron, Hollande's 38-year-old protege whose every move has been scrutinised by the French press seeking clues of presidential ambitions.

Daily appearances, regular high-profile media interviews and the launch of his own political movement “En Marche” (“On the Move”) have fuelled the speculation, and prompted fellow ministers to call him to order.

(Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron. AFP)

A torrid term

Hollande, 61, was elected in 2012 after ousting conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy. He has had a torrid term in office, with record unemployment and ever-increasing public anger over policies perceived as favouring business over workers.

His party has lost five major elections in a row, the far-right National Front has surged in popularity and every effort to institute reforms has run into massive street protests.

In March, Hollande was embarrassingly forced to back out of plans to amend the constitution to enshrine a state of emergency and other measures after the Paris attacks, due to fierce opposition from within his own party and without.

His government has also watered down controversial labour reforms — but this has failed to quell protests from citizens who fear workers' rights are being eroded.

Marliere noted that the only time Hollande saw his popularity rise was in the aftermath of major terror attacks in January and November 2015, both short lived bumps.

“There are a lot of things happening, and none of them are going his way — this launch had to be one way to show the public that he has got supporters,” he said.

“There have been one too many attempts to reform things in a way which is not favourable to ordinary workers — people who would normally vote for the Socialist Party.”

'Extreme political weakness'

Hollande has said he will decide at the end of the year whether to seek re-election, but a recent poll predicted he would be eliminated in the first round of the two-part contest.

According to Marliere, every French president since Charles de Gaulle has tried to get re-elected — with the exception of Georges Pompidou who died in office.

“It's a sign of extreme political weakness that less than a year from the election there are open debates over whether he can run again. Not whether he can win again… but can he run again.”

There have even been growing calls for a primary to vote for a candidate to represent the left and the greens.

Nevertheless, Hollande's supporters are convinced he is their man.

“I don't know anyone on the left who is as capable as Francois Hollande of uniting the left,” said Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Tuesday.

“What is strange, and a pity, is that often the first criticism of the government does not come from the opposition, but from part of the left which does not like the difficulty of being in power.”

by Fran Blandy

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Macron rules out ‘national unity government’ for France

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised a new style of government based on 'listening and respect' - but did not announce an alliance with any other parties that would give him a majority in parliament.

Macron rules out 'national unity government' for France

Macron has been holding meetings with all other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock in parliament after his group lost its majority in Sunday’s elections, but in a live TV address to the nation he did not announce an alliance.

Instead he said that a new style of government was called for, saying: “The responsibility of the presidential majority is therefore to expand, either by building a coalition contract or by building majorities text by text.”

He rejected the idea of forming a “government of national unity” with all parties, saying that the present situation does not justify it.

READ ALSO Can Macron dissolve the French parliament?

But he said that opposition groups have signalled that: “They are available to advance on major topics” such as the cost of living, jobs, energy, climate and health.”

He said: “We must learn how to govern differently, by dialogue, respect, and listening

“This must mean making agreements, through dialogue, respect, and hard work. The country has made its desire for change clear.”  

Speaking for just eight minutes in the gardens of the Elysée, Macron added: “I cannot ignore the fractures and strong divisions that traverse our country.”   

He said urgent draft laws, especially to alleviate the impact of inflation and rising energy prices, would be submitted to parliament over the summer.

Macron called on the opposition parties to “clarify in all transparency, in the coming days, how far they are willing to go” in their support of such measures, which he said would not be financed by higher taxes.

He added that he himself had been re-elected in April on a platform of “ambitious reform” which he expected to carry out.

The parliamentary impasse should not lead to “stagnation”, Macron said, but to “dialogue and the willingness to listen to each other”.

Macron’s centrist group Ensemble (Together) ended Sunday’s elections as the largest group in parliament – but with 245 seats they are 44 short of an absolute majority.

The leftist coalition Nupes – an electoral alliance of the hard-left La France Insoumise, the centre-left Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communists – got a total of 131.

Meanwhile Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National got 89 seats and the centre-right Les Républicains got 61 seats. 

With deadlock in parliament, Macron has been holding meetings over the last two days with the party leaders in the attempt to create an alliance that will allow him to pass legislation over the next five years.

Reacting to Macron’s speech, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the leftist alliance which is the second largest group in parliament, said: “He was elected because most French people did not want the extreme right – the French people have rejected the president’s proposals.

“Nothing can change the choice of the French people.”

Macron’s position as president is not directly threatened by the lack of a majority, but it will mean that passing any legislation – which must be agreed by parliament – will be very difficult.

While negotiations between all parties will continue, Macron himself heads to Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit.