PARIS – An online petition urging Barack Obama to stand in the French election has attracted more than 42,000 supporters.
Campaign posters reading “Oui, on peut” – a translation of the former US president’s popular 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes, we can” – have appeared around Paris.
Obama is not a French citizen and is thus ineligible to run.
But those behind the prank say the point is to highlight the lack of inspirational candidates.
Their message to the candidates, one of the organisers told the BBC, is: “Hey guys, you really don’t make us dream.”
French voters go to the polls on 23 April, and, unless one polls more than 50 per cent in the first round, they will return on 7 May to decide between the two frontrunners.
A dominant figure in the campaign has been far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has benefited from claims of financial wrongdoing which have swirled around the campaign of her centre-right rival Francois Fillon since late January, culminating last week in the announcement that a magistrate was launching a formal inquiry into the claims.
Current opinion polls give her a lead of several percentage points over Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron – though both of her rivals are predicted to beat her in a two-way runoff.
Le Pen may be backed by a greater number of French voters than ever, but her enduring toxicity for many of the rest means the campaign has been dominated by a negative message, say commentators: How can we keep her out?
It is this, in part, that the organisers of the Obama2017 campaign – Parisians in their 30s – are reacting to.
“It’s still possible to vote for a president and not against a candidate,” their website reasons.
“We think we can do something else than the extreme,” said one of the organisers, who refuse to reveal their names, saying they want the focus to remain on the campaign and not on them as individuals.
“We are anti-political, we are not against any candidate in particular, but we are not a big fan of any of them. [This campaign is] a way to say ‘Guys, eh wake up – you are uncool, and this campaign is uncool – we’d rather have Obama’.”
The viral take-off of the campaign caught them by surprise – but the French media, said the organiser, has failed to get the joke.
“They are very annoyed, people take it all too seriously,” he said, adding that even the left-leaning newspaper Liberation ended a short piece on the campaign on a sniffy note: “If that’s what amuses them…”
“We want this to stay on the joke level,” he says.