Ex-president Hollande makes surprise comeback in French election

Paris   -   France’s former Socialist president Francois Hollande on Saturday said he would run for parliament again, the latest political twist following his successor Emmanuel Macron’s surprise decision to call snap legislative elections. Macron’s dissolving of parliament after the French far right’s victory in European parliamentary elections has swiftly redrawn the lines of French politics. A new left-wing alliance has emerged and the main right-wing party’s leader has announced he is prepared to back an alliance with the far right, sparking in-fighting within his political family. On Saturday, police estimated that a quarter of a million people protested across France against the prospect of the far right coming to power.

But the latest polls still put the far right comfortably in the lead. Hollande, France’s president from 2012-2017, left office with record levels of unpopularity. He is hated by parts of the radical left and even the Socialist leadership regards him with suspicion.

He said he would stand as an MP for the southwestern Correze department for the New Popular Front, a left-wing grouping formed for the elections that includes the Socialists, hard-left, Greens and Communists.

“An exceptional decision for an exceptional situation,” Hollande told reporters in the department’s main town of Tulle, explaining his surprise comeback. “I am not seeking anything for myself,” he insisted, after a flurry of recent media appearances sparked speculation he might be eyeing a run for the presidency. Hollande has already backed the new broad left-wing alliance, saying that we “must all do everything to make sure the far right does not come to power in France”. Officially, the Socialist Party reacted coolly to the move, the head of its election commission Pierre Jouvet simply saying that it “takes note” of the candidacy.

But one senior party figure, asking not to be named, said they were “devastated” by the news while conceding: “We said we wanted the broadest possible left wing.” The elections were called by Macron after the far right National Rally (RN) trounced his own centrist ruling party in last week’s European elections, recording more than double its vote.

The first round is set for June 30 and the second on July 7. Throughout France on Saturday, demonstrators mobilised against the prospect of a victory for the far right and the possibility that RN leader Jordan Bardella, 28, could become prime minister. “I thought I would never see the far right come to power and now it could happen,” said Florence David, 60, who took part in the Paris protest. The new left-wing coalition faced its first crisis on Saturday after some prominent MPs from the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party found they had not been put forward to stand again. Many had at some point disagreed publicly with LFI figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon, and they and their supporters inside the new alliance denounced a “purge”.

In an interview with 20 minutes newspaper, Melenchon said no one was guaranteed a seat for life, adding: “Political coherence and loyalty in the first left-wing parliamentary group are also a requirement to govern.”

But there was anger too that Adrien Quatennens, a close ally of Melenchon, was on the list of candidates despite a 2022 conviction for domestic violence.

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