Strauss-Kahn affair throws Socialists into disarray
The arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a prominent member of France's Socialists, has shaken and divided the party, which until a few days ago was tipped to win next year’s presidential race with Strauss-Kahn leading the party ticket.
The arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a prominent member of France's Socialists, could not have come at a worse time for his party. Just a little less than a year before the April 22 first round of presidential elections, the popular frontrunner looked set to thrash current President Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, potentially sweeping the Socialists back into the presidential palace.
Meeting on Tuesday to discuss the party's response to Strauss-Kahn's arrest and imminent trial on sexual assault allegations, some party members have staunchly defended Strauss-Kahn while others have taken a cautious step back.
“We know that there is a victim in this affair, but we don’t know yet if the victim is the plaintiff or the accused,” declared Socialist parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Ayrault on Tuesday. “Both have the right to the same level of respect. We don’t want it to seem like we’re deserting [Strauss-Kahn], nor that we’re defending him unreasonably.”
Party leader Martine Aubry echoed the sentiment on the same day, urging her colleagues to “wait for the facts and for Strauss-Kahn’s version of events”. She also called for respect for the alleged victim.
But not everybody was as willing to wait to choose sides. Former justice minister Robert Badinter told French radio on Tuesday that the IMF chief had already been “executed by the media”, blaming the French authorities for “wanting this exhibition”.
A close aide to Strauss-Kahn, party member Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, was quick to depict the incident as a plot to ruin the Socialists’ election favourite. “He was warned that there would be ‘nuclear war’ as soon as he got near to the presidency,” Cambadélis said.
Socialist parliamentary deputy and party veteran Jacques Lang, meanwhile, cited American prejudice after Strauss-Kahn was refused bail on Monday. “It is not unthinkable that certain judicial officials, the prosecutor in particular or the judge, was driven by a desire to take down a Frenchman, a Frenchman who is, moreover, well-known,” he said.
A very different game for the Socialists
After being widely expected to head the Socialist presidential ticket, Strauss-Kahn’s political prospects are now quietly fading from view. Even if he is cleared of the charges, it is unlikely that he will have time to prepare for the Socialist primaries in October – and his reputation will have taken a serious hit.
Once news of the Strauss-Kahn arrest got out, former party chief François Hollande quickly passed Strauss-Kahn in the polls as the party favourite to win the candidacy as the Socialists now contemplate a very different election strategy.
Supporters of party leader Aubry are asking for her to stand as a candidate in the primaries in place of Strauss-Kahn. Aubry had formerly made a pact with Strauss-Kahn, promising not to run if he did.
But some among the party faithful fear that Aubry lacks the killer instinct to be a viable contender for the French presidency in 2012.
So far Aubry has evaded the question, saying only that the Strauss-Kahn affair won’t affect the selection timetable and that the party would be “ready in time for 2012”. Asked about her possible candidacy on Tuesday morning, she replied: “It is not the time to talk about that.”