Former French Minister Arnaud Montebourg (C) gestures next to Former French Minister of Culture Aurelie Filippetti (C-L) at the 44th annual Fete de la Rose political meeting on August 21, 2016 in Frangy-en-Bresse
Arnaud Montebourg said it was impossible to support the president © Getty

French socialist Arnaud Montebourg has become the latest among François Hollande’s former ministers to declare a rival presidential bid. Mr Montebourg accused the president on Sunday of betraying the “ideals of the left” and urged him to refrain from seeking a second term.

Speaking in Frangy-en-Bresse, a village in Burgundy, Mr Mont ebourg said: “I’m a candidate because it’s impossible for me to support the current president. I wish I could . . . For me, this presidential term cannot be defended.”

The 53-year-old former economy minister outlined his “project France”, a statist platform mixing tax breaks for the middle class, protectionist measures for small businesses, a possible nationalisation of a French bank, a vow to overhaul the EU and scrap the bloc’s deficit target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product to free France from “austerity”.

With less than eight months before presidential polls, France has switched into campaign mode. Nicolas Sarkozy, the former conservative president and head of the Republicans party, is expected to announce this week his intentions to run for the centre-right presidential primaries, held in late November.

On the left, Mr Montebourg’s candidacy follows that of Benoît Hamon, a socialist MP and a former education minister, and Cecile Duflot, a former housing minister and green MP. All three stepped down from Mr Hollande’s government in 2014 in opposition to the president’s pro-business policy shift. Their candidacies expose the deep divisions on the left and highlight the difficulties Mr Hollande will have in winning a second term.

Citing the lack of economic results — high unemployment and sluggish growth — the trio spearheaded a rebellion that denied the government a majority in parliament and forced it to use presidential decrees on several occasions to pass bills, including the recent labour market reform bill.

They have also pushed for primary elections to pick the left’s candidate, which risks setting up the deeply unpopular Mr Hollande for a humiliating defeat.

After much wrangling, the Socialist party decided to hold primaries in January. Mr Hollande’s supporters say the primaries will be an opportunity for the president to neutralise rivals and unify the left before the first round of the presidential polls in April.

Most opinion polls predict the socialist leader would not qualify for the second ballot, coming third behind Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, and the centre-right nominee, whether Mr Sarkozy or Alain Juppé, the former prime minister.

But some presidential hopefuls on the left have snubbed the primaries. Like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left politician, Ms Duflot said she would not participate in the primaries and would run as the Green candidate. Mr Hamon said he would take part in the primaries while Mr Montebourg has yet to decide.

At least one more rival is likely to further complicate Mr Hollande’s re-election. Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old economy minister, who has built his popularity on attacking tenets of the left such as the 35-hour working week or the wealth tax, is preparing to step down from the government next month, according to people with knowledge of the plan.

A protégé of Mr Hollande who founded the En Marche (on the move) political party, Mr Macron advocates liberalising the French economy to boost growth and cut unemployment of nearly 10 per cent. Mr Macron says he is “from the left” but “not a socialist” and wants a “transformation plan” that would secure consensus across party lines.

Mr Hollande is expected to announce his decision to seek re-election in December. Supporters of Mr Macron and Mr Montebourg hope that the president will decide against running in the face of his abysmal approval ratings. But in a book recounting “private” conversations with two journalists, released this week, the 62-year-old president says that he still has a “desire” to run again.

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