Mon, Jul 04, 2011 - Page 6 News List

France’s election in disarray as Strauss-Kahn could return

The Guardian, PARIS

French Socialists were in chaos on Saturday as key figures speculated whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn could return to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential race next year, throwing the party into another round of instability and internal ego clashes.

Strauss-Kahn was the clear favorite to win next year’s presidential election before he was arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a New York hotel maid in May. He is no longer under house arrest, but still faces seven charges ranging from attempted rape to sexual assault. If he is cleared or charges are dropped, supporters such as former culture minister Jack Lang suggested he could return to France more popular than ever before.

Strauss-Kahn’s possible return has thrown the Socialist party’s primary race into disarray. The party had presumed his presidential hopes were dead and opened its selection process for another candidate last week. Candidates must declare by July 13 for an October vote, but Strauss-Kahn’s next hearing is scheduled for July 18.

Current front-runner Francois Hollande was the first to declare this weekend that he had “no problem” with pushing back the declaration date until the end of next month, allowing Strauss-Kahn to return from New York if charges were dropped quickly. However, the party’s interim leader, Harlem Desir, snapped back that there didn’t seem to be “any reason” to move the deadline. The row has weakened Martine Aubry, who declared her presidential bid last week, but had a pact with Strauss-Kahn and could be pressured to stand aside for him.

All depends on whether the prosecution maintains its case and goes to trial or quickly drops charges against Strauss-Kahn, and if so how the French public and opinion polls perceive him.

Even while the charges still stand, some French supporters yesterday presented him as an innocent victim, hero and martyr. Left-wing philosopher Bernard-Henry Levy spoke of a noble man who had been the victim of a “spiral of horror and calumny.” He told Le Parisien that Strauss-Kahn had been “lynched” by the “friends of minorities” in the US. He said that because the victim was “poor and immigrant” she had been presumed innocent, and because Strauss-Kahn was “powerful” he had been presumed guilty.

Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette, political editor of the weekly Le Point, felt “anything is possible.” A returning Strauss-Kahn might be seen by the French as a “hero” mistreated or “humiliated” by the American justice system. Much would depend on whether French left voters still saw him as a “savior” against Sarkozy, she wrote.

However, while many Socialists felt Strauss-Kahn could return triumphant if totally cleared, others worried about the stain the case would leave on French politics and the damage done by revelations about his private life and his attitude to women. Since his arrest, a French taboo has been broken and Strauss-Kahn’s behavior toward women, deemed “libertine” by his friends, has been raked over.

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