PARIS, France – Hours after winning the presidency, a beaming Francois Hollande emerged in front of a crowd of flag-waving, cheering supporters and said he was proud to have given some hope back to France.
Two and a half years later, exactly half-way through his term, the president who set himself up as “Mr Normal” finds himself in a highly abnormal position: never has a French head of state been so unpopular.
With an approval rating at a historic low of 13% and a staggering 97% believing he has failed on the economy, more than 8 in 10 French people say they do not want Hollande to run for a second term.
And with even his own camp saying privately there is a feeling of “end of days” around the presidential Elysee Palace, Hollande will on Thursday, November 6, give a rare prime-time television interview in a desperate bid to claw back some ground.
His record so far, especially on the economy, has been little short of disastrous. Unemployment has risen 27 months out of the 30 he has been in charge and growth has ground to a halt.
He came to office vowing to get France’s budget deficit below three percent of output – as EU rules demand – but has since pushed the deadline back from 2013 to 2017, infuriating partners in Brussels and austerity-minded Berlin.
Added to the political and economic woes are difficulties in his personal life following a bitter tell-all book by former partner Valerie Trierweiler that painted a picture of a cold and scornful man.
Close aides worry about the loneliness at the top.
“He doesn’t ever get together with his friends,” said one.
And the heady days of May 6, 2012, when he gave that speech in his heartland of Tulle, now seem “long off”, admits Albert Trigot, owner of a brasserie in the square Hollande addressed.
“People knew it was going to be difficult whoever was elected. But they are disappointed, including on the left of politics. For a year, it’s been getting harder,” Trigot told Agence France-Presse.
Another Tulle resident, Jose Da Silva, said: “Whether it was him or someone else, the result would have been the same. But he has made a lot of promises he hasn’t kept.”
“He doesn’t bang his fist on the table enough. I was expecting a much more forthright president.”
In fact, Hollande’s consensual style has become a perceived weakness at a time of political and economic crisis, said Frederic Dabi from the Ifop polling group.
“The consensual president who wants to please everyone has given the impression of an indecisive leadership… and his eternal optimism has been interpreted as trickery,” said Dabi.
Another political analyst, Gerard Grunberg, said Hollande “perhaps doesn’t have the character to face up to the crisis”, saying he had lost “a large part of his personal authority, allowing all those unhappy with him to do what they want.”
Indeed, Hollande is also battling to keep those in his own camp onside, with a rebellious left-wing of his Socialist Party defying him and abstaining on crucial parliamentary votes.
“It’s hard. It’s not easy,” admitted the beleaguered president recently.
His main reform drive – a mix of spending cuts and tax breaks for business to create jobs – has been slow to bear fruit, with even his own economy minister acknowledging France is “sick”.
On the world stage, he has been more dynamic, with France taking an active role in the fight against the Islamic State group and intervening in African hotspots.
But with a poll showing he would receive only 13-15% of the vote in the first round of the 2017 presidential election if it were held now, losing out heavily to the far-right Marine Le Pen, questions are increasingly being raised about his candidature.
Le Pen has called for parliament to be dissolved and former Socialist prime minister Michel Rocard has advised Hollande not to stand again.
Another advisor, however, pointed to Hollande’s reputation as a comeback king, once coming back from an approval rating of three percent to win the Socialist primary.
“He went through a low patch in September,” said one aide. But now “he is fired up. He believes in it. He’s trying to bounce back.” – Rappler.com