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Socialist presidential hopes tainted by sex charges

Video by Jade BARKER

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-05-17

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and once the French Socialists' best hope for a presidential victory in 2012, has become a party liability following his arrest in New York on sexual assault charges.

Leaders of France’s main opposition Socialist Party are due to gather in an emergency meeting on Tuesday following the arrest of International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the party’s most high-profile international figure, on criminal sex charges in New York. According to recent opinion polls, Strauss-Kahn was a frontrunner to win next year’s presidential race, polling well ahead of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. But many are now wondering if his arrest – and a potentially lengthy legal battle – have not completely shattered the Socialist Party’s hopes of winning the 2012 contest.    

It is not just the Socialists but France’s entire political establishment that is reeling from the news of Strauss-Kahn’s dramatic arrest on Saturday. New York City police said Strauss-Kahn, who has been credited with helping the world navigate through the 2008 financial meltdown, fled his luxury Manhattan hotel suite after allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel maid and attempting to rape her. A few hours later, police pulled him from his first-class seat on an Air France plane minutes before it was to take off for Paris.
 
A look at Dominique Strauss-Kahn's career at the IMF
Abruptly yanked off the pedestal of international finance and thrown into a Harlem neighbourhood jail, Strauss-Kahn’s face dominated the front pages of French and international newspapers on Monday. Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said she was “thunderstruck” by the news. “Disbelief, utter disbelief, has been everyone’s first reaction,” said Michel Wieviorka, a sociologist and expert on France’s political left. 
 
Strauss-Kahn, known in France as “DSK” after his initials, was widely expected to announce his candidacy next month for the 2012 presidential election. Many analysts thought he would step down as IMF chief shortly after the upcoming G8 meeting, to be held in the western French city of Deauville on May 26 and 27. Even as an unofficial candidate, opinion polls in France gave Strauss-Kahn a strong lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy with less than 12 months to go before the April 22, 2012 vote.
 
‘Unmitigated disaster’
 
“Things are going to change,” said Jacques Attali, an economist and well-known Socialist Party figure. “I don’t think DSK will be a candidate in the presidential race,” Attali told Europe 1 radio on Sunday, adding that Strauss-Kahn could reemerge as a viable contender only if an act of conspiracy is revealed in the case.
 
Christopher Dickey, the Paris bureau chief of the US weekly magazine Newsweek, told FRANCE 24 that the events were an “unmitigated disaster” for Strauss-Kahn’s IMF career as well as for his political ambitions at home.
 
“Even if the [allegations] don’t prove true, this whole process could drag on for months, even years,” Dickey said. “That could, among other things, force Strauss-Kahn to remain in the United States, where he certainly can’t be a candidate for president of France.”
 
The man who only last week represented the best hopes of a presidential victory for the Socialist Party has overnight become a party liability, as the shockwaves of his arrest continue to reverberate through the Socialists’ push to regain the Elysée presidential palace.
 
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the highest-ranking Socialist MP, went into crisis management mode on Sunday. Appearing on LCI television, he reminded viewers that Strauss-Kahn was innocent until proven guilty – while also stressing that the alleged sexual aggression “was not a Socialist Party affair”.
 
“Let us not confuse the matter,” Ayrault said. “We respect DSK – who he is, an important international figure. His competence is not being questioned. He is facing charges in a personal affair.”
 
Socialist primaries not over
 
The Socialist Party has only seen one of its candidates, François Mitterrand, ascend to the nation’s top office since the end of World War Two. Often plagued by party infighting and a lack of clear leadership, the Socialists seemed to have found in Strauss-Kahn a figurehead that everyone could rally around.
 
“Let’s not forget that he is leading all opinion polls, and is the only candidate today who had the potential to crush Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right National Front,” said FRANCE 24’s politics editor, Roselyne Febvre. Moreover, she said, “He is the only Socialist who could go against Nicolas Sarkozy.”
 
But not everyone is ready to count out the Socialists. “Many things can happen between now and October,” Wieviorka said, in reference to the party primaries, scheduled for autumn. In a break with tradition, the Socialists have organised an internal primary to choose their 2012 candidate. Strauss-Kahn was expected to add his name to the handful of candidates who have already expressed their wish to head the party’s ticket.
 
Ayrault made clear on Sunday that the October primaries would not be held up by Strauss-Kahn’s legal difficulties. With the IMF chief’s future far from certain, attention has turned to François Hollande. The former leader of the Socialist Party is the only major candidate who has declared his intention to run and has already been aggressively campaigning.
Party leader Aubry could also emerge as a strong candidate. It has been widely reported that the fiery mayor of the city of Lille has an agreement with Strauss-Kahn not to run against each other in the primaries.
 
“Sure, the deck of cards has been reshuffled by Strauss-Kahn’s arrest; there is a void,” Wieviorka said. “But it doesn’t determine the results of the election. The results will depend on the ability of the Left to show a united front and pick a candidate that people can get excited about.”
 
And Wieviorka thinks the Socialists still have time to make a political comeback before it’s too late. “It’s actually better that this happened now, than say, three months down the road,” he said.  

 

Date created : 2011-05-16

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