French Prime Minister Valls to Declare He’ll Run for President

(Bloomberg) -- French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will announce Monday evening that he’s running for president, betting that with five months to go before the vote he’s better placed than incumbent Francois Hollande to unify France’s divided left.

Valls will make an announcement at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall of Evry, the Paris suburb where he was mayor from 2001 to 2012, his office said. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said afterward in a radio interview that he will declare his candidacy. As a result of his bid, Valls will have to step down as prime minister and Hollande will quickly name a successor, Le Foll added.

A bid by Valls became almost certain last week after Hollande said he wouldn’t seek re-election because divisions on the left risk handing the presidency to extremist parties. The anti-European Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon, a Republican standard bear for harsh economic medicine, have established themselves as front-runners in next April’s first round while polls show candidates on the left are set for elimination.

With approval ratings hovering only slightly above Hollande’s record lows, Valls must decide whether to subject himself to the primary that the Socialist Party and its allies are planning in January or run directly and further splinter the leftist vote.

“He has the same line as Francois Hollande and therefore the same inability to bring the left together,” Marie-Noelle Lienemann, a Socialist Senator and one of the seven declared candidates in the left’s primary, said Monday on i-Tele television.

While Hollande is the first head of state not to seek re-election, no sitting prime minister has won a presidential election. Jacques Chirac in 1988, Edouard Balladur in 1995, and Lionel Jospin in 2002 all failed.

Divided Left

Two former members of Valls government who quit over policy disagreements -- Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon -- are also running in the primary, while former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, will be fighting for moderate voters as an independent. Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon is running his own independent campaign to the left of mainstream Socialists.

“Valls’ biggest handicap is that he will have to defend Hollande’s record, but he can finesse this by denouncing Hollande’s hesitations and saying that he will do what needs to be done with greater vigor and less head-scratching,” Art Goldhammer, a researcher affiliated with Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, said in a comment on his blog. “One challenge will be to fend off Montebourg on his left within the primary and Macron on his right outside.”

An OpinionWay poll in newspaper Le Figaro Monday said 78 percent of the French have a negative view of Hollande’s time in office. Valls was initially interior minister after Hollande’s 2012 election and became prime minister in March 2014.

Once one of the more popular ministers, Valls’ approval ratings slid since he became head of the government. Most pollsters place Hollande’s approval ratings in the teens, while Valls’s are above 20 percent.

French media have named Valls’ possible successors as Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Michel Sapin, Health Minister Marisole Touraine, Education Minister Najat Belkacem, or Le Foll, who is Agriculture Minister as well as government spokesman. Asked on France Info radio, Le Foll wouldn’t say who was most likely and wouldn’t rule himself out.