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France’s embattled Hollande marks Mitterrand centenary

French president Francois Hollande unveils a commemorative stamp marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francois Mitterand on October 26, 2016/AFP 

PARIS, France, Oct 26 – Battling rock-bottom approval ratings six months ahead of France’s election, embattled President Francois Hollande marked the centenary of the birth of his 1980s predecessor Francois Mitterrand with an appeal for party unity.

“To the left, to all of the left, he bequeathed a clear legacy to come together to govern and to govern to reform and change the country,” Hollande said under architect I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris, one of the symbols of Mitterrand’s 14-year presidency.

For Hollande, 62, the event risked drawing unflattering comparisons with the only other Socialist to lead France in the last 60 years.

While just four percent of the French public approve of Hollande’s presidency, according to a poll published Tuesday, Mitterrand romped to re-election in 1988 with 54 percent of the vote.

But the homage to Mitterrand offered a rare moment of unity for the left, with many of the ministers and aides from his 1981-95 rule gathering at the Louvre.

After ousting Nicolas Sarkozy as president in 2012, Hollande has seen his time in office clouded by stubbornly high unemployment and a series of devastating terror attacks, and has suffered some of the lowest approval ratings of a post-war president.

Drawing parallels with himself, Hollande paid tribute to Mitterrand’s determination in the face of adversity.

“Do we need reminding of the criticism, the challenges, the insults, the outrages Francois Mitterrand was subjected to?” Hollande said.

“The mark of Francois Mitterrand, if we are to remember one thing only, was his will a fierce, unshakable, limitless will,” that allowed him to unite the left and then the whole of France, Hollande said.

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‘Results, not popularity’

He is waiting until early December to say whether he will even run in next year’s presidential race, though Tuesday’s unemployment figures, showing the biggest jobless fall in 20 years, gave him a boost.

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech after visiting an exhibition and unveiling a commemorative stamp celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late French president Francois Mitterand/AFP 

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll admitted Hollande’s popularity was “at the very bottom” but the president took heart from the jobless numbers, saying it was the “fruit” of his policy and confirmed a trend that began at the start of the year.

Hollande is battling to maintain unity within the Socialist party two weeks after the publication of a tell-all book of interviews with two journalists left him mounting a desperate damage-limitation exercise.

In the book, Hollande took aim at lawyers, judges, the French national football team and his former partner.

The revelations unleashed criticism even from within the ranks of his own party, with some openly questioning his willingness to run again.

But despite Hollande’s dismal ratings, his core supporters have not yet given up hope.

“You don’t do politics to be popular but to get results in education, security and the fight against unemployment,” an aide to the president told AFP.

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