The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has announced she will run for president in next year’s election, joining a growing list of challengers to centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
The 62-year-old daughter of Spanish immigrants who fled Francisco Franco’s dictatorship is the hot favourite to win the nomination of the Socialist party.
But the first female mayor of Paris will need to expand her profile nationally to become France’s first woman president.
Minutes after her announcement on Sunday, one of her rivals, far-right leader Marine Le Pen kickstarted her third presidential campaign in the southern city of Frejus.
Hidalgo chose the dockyards of the city of Rouen in the northwest for her announcement rather than the gilded backdrop of Paris city hall.
Paris mayor since 2014, she enters the race as a polarising figure whose campaign to squeeze cars out of the capital and make the city greener has divided residents.
Humblement, consciente de la gravité de cet instant, et pour faire de nos espoirs la réalité de nos vies, j’ai décidé d’être candidate à la présidence de la République française. pic.twitter.com/viaXwURm53
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) September 12, 2021
Translation: Humbly, aware of the gravity of this moment, and to make our hopes the reality of our lives, I decided to be a candidate for the presidency of the French Republic.
In her speech, Hidalgo said her upbringing in the working-class housing estates of Lyon showed how the French school system could help children overcome “class prejudice”.
But she warned that the French republican model, promising liberty, equality and fraternity, was “disintegrating before our eyes”.
“I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had,” she said.
Journalist Pierre Haski told Al Jazeera that Hidalgo’s background is one “of her main selling points”.
“She is putting forward her personal story as this daughter of a working-class Spanish immigrant [family] who has made it to become the mayor of Paris, the world-class capital in the country,” Haski said.
“So that’s the kind of achievement that she is promoting, saying I want everybody else to have the same kind of opportunities that I have had. She has a programme … against inequality, more education, more social assistance for the poor,” he added.
However, there are still big challenges ahead, according to Haski.
“One of the weaknesses of her candidacy is that being the mayor of Paris obviously gives her a lot of visibility and importance, but it’s also a handicap,” Haski explained.
“Outside Paris, people resent the centrality of the capital, and they resent what they see as the arrogance from Parisians, so being the mayor of Paris is not necessarily the best asset,” Haski said.
Polls currently show Hidalgo would garner only seven to nine percent in the first round of voting for president in April, if picked to represent the Socialists.
She said one of her top priorities would be to transform France into a low-carbon economy, accusing Macron of failing in his climate pledges.
Macron has yet to confirm that he will seek a second term, but he is widely expected to do so.
The current president and far-right leader Le Pen are polling at between 20 percent and 24 percent and are currently the most likely second-round runners.