French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday entered the race to be the Socialist candidate for next year’s presidential election and said he was quitting the government to focus on campaigning.
Opinion polls bill the 54-year-old Valls as favourite to win his party's nomination in late January primaries.
But the centrist with a business-friendly stance on economic policies combined with a reputation as a hardliner on law and order will face stiff competition from party rivals.
In any case, opinion polls predict that no left-wing candidate is likely to gather enough support in the presidential election and that conservative Francois Fillon would eventually beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a two-way run-off.
"Yes, I am candidate for the presidency of the Republic," Valls said to applause from supporters in his fiefdom of Evry, the gritty southern suburb of Paris where he was mayor for over a decade.
"I am outraged at the idea that the Left could be disqualified from these presidentials," Valls said, referring to his camp`s poor poll ratings and its divisions. "We must unite," said Valls who later added: "My candidacy is one of conciliation, of reconciliation."
Valls had made no secret of his desire to seek the Socialist ticket and President Francois Hollande's decision not to run for a second mandate opened the way for him.
Valls announced his resignation as prime minister, saying it would be effective on Tuesday.