Until that point, the Socialists looked unlikely to make any impact on the race for presidency, owing to the massive unpopularity of Hollande — the worst personal poll ratings in the history of the Fifth Republic — as deep resentment over his failure to turn round the economy.
His prime minister, Manuel Valls, had hinted that he might stand for the presidential candidacy in the Socialists primaries, January 2017, which would have meant Hollande outing himself forward in a contest against his own PM — a political taboo.
In the end, Hollande stood aside and Valls is set, Monday (December 5) to officially stand, with the latest Ifop poll for newspaper Journal du Dimanche showing 45 percent backing his stance, against 25 percent for the left-winger and former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg.
Valls climbed steadily up the Socialists ladder, after becoming a member at the age of 17, working his way up through the ranks to become head of the Socialist Party in Argenteuil-Bezons, in the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris. After spells as Secretary of Communications for the national Socialist Party and other responsibilities for communications and media relations for the Prime Minister's Cabinet, in 1998, he was elected vice president of the regional Council for the Île-de-France.
He stood against Hollande in the 2012 primaries for the presidency, lost and then endorsed Hollande, who eventually rewarded him by appointing him prime minister. Few doubted Valls was always a potential candidate for the presidency.
La décision du Président Hollande est celle d'un homme d'État. Un choix mûrement réfléchi. Un choix qui force le respect par sa dignité. pic.twitter.com/c7lFogSa5s— Manuel Valls (@manuelvalls) 2 December 2016
[Twitter: "The decision of President Hollande is that of a statesman. A carefully considered choice. A choice that begs respect through his dignity."]
Gino Raymond, Professor of Modern French Studies at the University of Bristol, UK, told Sputnik that — following the pullout of Hollande — Valls' path is clear for the Socialists primary.
"He will be a rallying point for people in the party. The difficulty for Valls is that many people in the Socialists party — certainly the traditional socialists — see him as rather a right-wing kind of socialist. He was very tough on security, very tough on Laïcité —secularism."
"He made some very tough statements about the need for integration. So there will be some difficulty, I think, for members of the Socialist party to rally round him," Raymond told Sputnik.
Valls was due to announce his stand for the presidency Monday afternoon (December 5), standing down as prime minister the following day, leaving a vacancy potentially for interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve or finance minister Michel Sapin to fill.