Veteran French President Jacques Chirac has confirmed in a TV address that he will not be seeking a third term in office in April's election.
Mr Chirac, 74, has been president since 1995 and has had a political career spanning four decades.
"The moment has come for me to serve you in a different way," he said.
Recent polls show Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has a narrow lead over his Socialist rival, Segolene Royal, ahead of the 22 April poll.
Mr Sarkozy, who has won backing from the governing centre-right UMP party, said he hoped to receive Mr Chirac's endorsement.
Mr Chirac told the nation in his Sunday evening address that he would find new ways to serve France after leaving office.
"In a different way, but with the same enthusiasm, and the same passion to work for you, I will continue to take part in our shared struggles - my life struggle - for justice, for progress, for peace, for the greatness of France," he said.
The president said he was "proud of the work which we have carried out together," citing in particular improvements for the elderly and the disabled, reforms of the pension system and reductions in crime and unemployment.
And he called on France to defend its values.
"France is not a country like others. It has particular responsibilities, the legacy of its history and the universal values it helped create," he said.