February 21, 2016 / 12:17 PM / 4 years ago

Hollande could face Socialist primary challenger - party head

France's President Francois Hollande arrives for a European Union leaders summit addressing the talks about the so-called Brexit and the migrants crisis in Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

PARIS (Reuters) - Francois Hollande could face a challenger from his Socialist Party camp in a primary ahead of next year’s election, the party head said on Sunday, as a new poll showed the French president falling further in public opinion.

The incumbent French president traditionally represents his party in an election, without a contest. But Hollande’s ratings are so poor that, as things stand, he appears unlikely to beat either far-right leader Marine Le Pen or whichever candidate is chosen by the centre-right in primaries later this year.

Hollande said last week he has not made up his mind if he will run in the 2017 election and has stood by his pledge not to if he fails to bring unemployment, currently at an 18-year high of 10.6 percent, on a convincingly downward trend by 2017.

If Hollande decides to run and a primary is held, it will be the first time a sitting French president has faced a primary challenger from his own camp.

Socialist Party head Jean-Christophe Cambadelis told Journal du Dimanche newspaper in an interview that December or January would be a good time to organise the primary, which many in the socialist camp have been calling for due to Hollande’s growing unpopularity.

“If this primary, without preconditions and without prejudice, allows us to select the best candidate of the left, it’s a good idea, and it must be organised,” he said.

“I have no worries. I think the most credible candidate in times of crisis is the president (Francois Hollande),” he added.

“For me, it has to take place next winter, in December or January. The President of the Republic, if he is a candidate, would not be obliged to participate in all debates,” Cambadelis said, adding that the all factions of the party must back the eventual winner.

A new poll by Ifop for Journal du Dimanche showed Hollande’s favourability ratings falling by 5 percent month-on-month to 19 percent in February, its lowest since December 2014.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Digby Lidstone

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