French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stepped down Tuesday to focus on running for president in next year’s election and was replaced by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a man who embodies the fight against Islamic extremism.
Valls resigned a day after announcing his candidacy in the wake of French President Francois Hollande’s decision not to run for a second term.
He hopes to unite Socialists and give the left a chance to stay at the Elysee Palace despite current opinion polls suggesting the second round of the April-May election could pit Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, against conservative Francois Fillon.
The 53-year-old Cazeneuve is a close ally of Hollande and became a popular figure as the champion of measures tackling extremism.
Cazeneuve, appointed interior minister in 2014, faced a series of attacks in France that have claimed more than 200 lives since January 2015. In total, he championed three counterterrorism laws and one intelligence law. He has also been in charge of implementing France’s state of emergency following the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November 2015.
Earlier this year, he handled the dismantlement of the migrant camp in Calais on the French side of the English Channel, and the relocation of thousands of people to temporary reception centers across the country.
Hollande said Tuesday he has entrusted Cazeneuve with protecting the French people.
“But protecting is not enough, we must prepare the future,” Hollande said in the Paris suburb of Villepinte.
Bruno Le Roux, the head of the Socialist group in Parliament’s lower house, was appointed as France’s new interior minister.
Valls is the top contender in the primary next month for Socialist candidates and their allies before France’s two-part presidential election but he will face tough competition.
A leading yet divisive party figure, Valls is known for his outspoken, authoritarian style and his tough views on immigration and security. He has been harshly criticized by other party members after championing tough labor reforms and endorsing a controversial ban last summer on the Islamic “burkini” swimsuit.
Former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg and former education minister Benoit Hamon, who back more left-leaning policies, are also serious contenders in the Socialist primary.