In just a couple of months, French voters will go to the polls to elect their next president. It’s already turning into a divisive campaign, with the onetime conservative front-runner François Fillon deeply wounded by a corruption scandal and facing stiff competition from both the far right Marine Le Pen and the upstart “radical centrist” Emmanuel Macron.
In the face of all this, some French voters are apparently hoping another candidate could come in and clean up the mess. The problem, however, is that their proposed president isn’t actually French.
In fact, he used to be the president of the United States.
Over the past week, posters with the slogan “Obama17″ have been plastered around Paris. A website of the same name is urging French votersto sign a petition promising to vote for Barack Obama should he enter the French race. The website says that it is hoping to collect 1 million signatures before March 15 in a bid to convince the former U.S. president to run.
“The French are ready to make radical choices,” a statement on the website reads in French. “That is good because we have a radical idea to propose to them.”
Obama would be a good president for France, the website continues, as he has “the best résumé in the world for the job.” But France’s own domestic political concerns also appeared to be a big issue in the campaign. “At a time when France is about to vote massively for the far right, we can give a lesson in democracy to the planet by electing a foreigner as French president,” the website reads.
According to NPR, this isn’t the first petition launched to request an Obama presidency. At least two similar petitions were launched last year, though this appears to be the most successful so far — one organizer told the Verge on Friday that the group had collected 30,000 signatures.
However, Obama’s chances at winning the French election may be slim. While polls suggest he is widely viewed positively in France — a Pew Global Research poll from last year found that 84 percent of the French had confidence that Obama would do the right thing in global affairs — Obama is not a French citizen and could not run in the French election until he became one.
Additionally, the former U.S. president does not speak French, though his wife, Michelle, has studied the language.
In interviews with media outlets, the organizers of Obama17 have admitted that their task isn’t entirely serious. “It’s definitely a joke,” one unnamed co-creator of the website told NPR. “But it could make people think a little bit about what we could do differently in French politics.”
Though there is also no indication at the moment that Obama would consider running for office in France, other former U.S. presidents have eyed it.
In 2012, Bill Clinton suggested that he might be able to run for election in two foreign countries: Ireland, because of his Irish family heritage, and France, because he was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, which meant he could immediately apply for naturalization. However, as Foreign Policy later pointed out, France changed its laws on naturalization in 2006, making Clinton’s quest for the Elysee Palace just as unlikely as Obama’s.