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The Underdog Candidate in France’s Elections: Obama

Quixotic French internet campaign tries to recruit a foreign head of state

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
obama-crop

By all accounts, former U.S. President Barack Obama had a stellar start to his retirement (you just can’t beat lounging on a billionaire's private island, kitesurfing and kick-boarding). But now a chorus of people are calling him back from retirement to to run again for president...of France.

Amid a heated presidential election season in France, campaign posters for Obama began popping up around Paris with the slogan “Oui, on peut,” or “Yes we can” -- his famous 2008 presidential campaign slogan.

https://twitter.com/notb3n/status/834307034879238145?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

By all accounts, former U.S. President Barack Obama had a stellar start to his retirement (you just can’t beat lounging on a billionaire’s private island, kitesurfing and kick-boarding). But now a chorus of people are calling him back from retirement to to run again for president…of France.

Amid a heated presidential election season in France, campaign posters for Obama began popping up around Paris with the slogan “Oui, on peut,” or “Yes we can” — his famous 2008 presidential campaign slogan.

The movement started as a joke between a group of friends but it’s gained a conspicuous amount of momentum since then. Now the “campaign” even has its own website. “We want to strike a blow by electing a foreign president to govern our beautiful country,” the website says. It also has a petition to garner support for his candidacy that’s already received over 42,000 signatures.

“Now is a time when France is about to give a massive vote to the extreme right, so we can give a lesson in democracy to the planet by electing a French president who is a foreigner,” the website says.

It’s referring to Marine Le Pen: The insurgent far-right, anti-immigrant, and potentially Russia-backed candidate who has surged in the polls ahead of the election. France’s divided left and center-right blocs have struggled to block Le Pen’s rise amid a growing wave of anti-establishment movements across Europe.

The Obama nostalgia may be a reflection of voter disgust with the field of candidates. Le Pen is embroiled in scandal over allegedly misappropriating campaign funds through a fake EU parliament contract and center-right candidate François Fillon is accused of siphoning 1 million euros of parliamentary money to his wife and children. Meanwhile, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is being dogged by rumors of an extramarital affair and French President François Hollande of the Socialist Party had to bow out of reelection after his approval rating dipped to a dismal 4 percent late last year. Yikes.

Despite lagging poll numbers at home at times, Obama maintained widespread popularity in Europe, particularly in France after his visit to Paris in the wake of the city’s deadly terror attacks in November, 2015.

Obama hasn’t yet responded to his unsolicited presidential campaign. But since French law prohibits foreigners from leading the country, he won’t be able to take up that particular hobby in his retirement.

Photo credit: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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