Attacks boost Francois Hollande`s image, but maybe not for long

Less than a week ago, France`s Francois Hollande was a president in deep trouble, his popularity at an all-time low and his lack of leadership widely attacked.

AFP| Last Updated: Jan 12, 2015, 23:19 PM IST

Paris: Less than a week ago, France`s Francois Hollande was a president in deep trouble, his popularity at an all-time low and his lack of leadership widely attacked.

But after the deaths of 17 people in three days of terror sparked the biggest rally in French history with Hollande leading 1.6 million people and dozens of world leaders through the streets of Paris, his image has changed -- if temporarily.

Hollande received a warm ovation from the crowd that thronged the French capital, belying the president`s standing in opinion polls that hit a record low just months ago.

Nevertheless, experts warn that voters have a short memory and the woes of high French unemployment and sluggish growth are not about to go away any time soon.

Hollande was often mocked as "Mr Normal", a man who had a way with the people but lacked the gravitas of a statesman on the world stage.

But it was this "man of the people" side of the president that provided one of the most iconic and moving images of Sunday`s rally, as he comforted a sobbing colleague of the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in a warm embrace.

Historian Alain Bergounioux said Hollande had been "up to the task of his mission".

"He needed to capture the unity of the nation and I think he did it. He even did a bit more because he pulled together 40 world leaders for France. That`s unprecedented," he said.

Even centre-right daily Le Figaro, not normally a fan of the Socialist Hollande, gushed praise.

"Responsibility weighed on Francois Hollande. His hand did not tremble. He made the right choices. His words were basically right and his crisis management precise and was worthy of his office," the daily wrote in an editorial.

"Who would have thought that the most maligned and most unpopular president in modern French history would be up to his date with destiny?"Images of Hollande cosying up with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and linking arms with world leaders to lead the Paris march of unity will stick in the minds of voters, experts say.

World leaders have tended to see a boost in their ratings at times of national crisis.

But while Hollande might expect a small bump in popularity, according to Jerome Fourquet from polling company Ifop, a complete turnaround in his fortunes is less likely.

"Remember when France intervened in Mali in January 2013? There was a lot of talk of Hollande setting himself up as a war leader. He even spoke himself of the `most significant day of my political life`. And then, very quickly, things went back to normal," Fourquet said.

Historian Bergounioux stressed that even after taking part in a historic event, "it doesn`t guarantee what comes after," noting that war-time president Charles De Gaulle resigned shortly after World War II ended with France liberated from the Nazis.

"Unless there is -- unfortunately -- another event and we move into a very different climate, one has to think that in spite of the emotion, things will gradually go back to normal," said pollster Fourquet.

"The memory will linger but unemployment, deficits and taxes will come back to the fore."