French President Jacques Chirac effectively retired from electoral politics when he announced late on Sunday that he will not be a candidate for a third term.
"At the end of the mandate which you gave me, the moment will have come to serve you in another way," Chirac said in a pre-recorded statement shown on national television and added "I will not seek your votes for another mandate."
The 74-year-old Chirac leaves frontline politics after serving 12 years as head of the French state and spending 40 years in elected office and various posts at the highest levels of the government.
Although the decision was widely expected, it removes a lingering doubt about the 2007 presidential election, which now looks to be a race between three representatives of a new generation of politicians, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou.
In the 10-minute statement, Chirac listed the accomplishments of his two terms of office of which he was most proud, including the defence of the principles of secularism and the decline in the rate of unemployment, which Chirac said was "at its lowest level in 25 years."
In addition, Chirac counselled the French to "never compromise with extremism, racism, anti-semitism. It is a poison. It divides. It perverts. It destroys."
Chirac also urged his compatriots to think again about their rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty, which they voted down in a national referendum in May 2005.
"It is vital to pursue the construction of Europe," he said. "Nationalism, which has done so much evil to our continent, could be reborn at any moment."
The defeat of the treaty was one of the worst defeats of Chirac's political career. At the EU summit in Brussels the previous week, Chirac apologized for not having done more to prevent the rejection of the EU constitution.
Chirac's career in politics goes back to 1962, when he was appointed to a minor post in the government of Prime Minister Georges Pompidou. Five years later, Chirac was first elected to office, as deputy for the southern department of Correze.
He became Farms Minister in 1972, then Interior Minister two years later, a post at which he served only three months before being named Prime Minister under President Valery Giscard D'Estaing.
He was elected as Mayor of Paris in 1977, and was re-elected twice, leaving the post in 1995, when he won the presidency in his third attempt, defeating Socialist Lionel Jospin.
In 2002, he won re-election in a landslide, garnering more than 80 per cent of the vote against right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
His last term was a difficult one. It virtually began with the attempt of a young right-wing extremist to assassinate him during the Bastille Day parade in Paris
On May 29, 2005, the French voted down the EU constitution. In September 2005, he suffered a minor stroke and was unable to carry out the demands of his office for several weeks.
In late October and November of the same year, frustrated minority youth rioted for three weeks throughout the country, burning more than 10,000 cars and several buildings.
Chirac's term ends on May 17. It remains unclear what role he will choose to play after that date as France's elder statesman.