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Chirac 'joke' makes political establishment squirm

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-06-14

France's former conservative president Jacques Chirac has suggested he will vote for Socialist presidential hopeful François Hollande in next year's election, in a snub to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Former French President Jacques Chirac has unleashed a storm of nervous reactions in France after suggesting he would switch political allegiances to vote for Socialist Party presidential hopeful François Hollande in next year’s elections.

The comment came during a museum event in the central Correze region of France on Saturday that both Chirac and Hollande were attending. It has been interpreted in the French media as a slight to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek re-election in 2012.

On Sunday, Chirac issued a statement to say he was just having fun, adding that his words had been misinterpreted by the media.

Hollande also sought to play down Chirac's comments, saying the two shared mutual “recognition, understanding and respect,” but that journalists “shouldn’t read any deeper” into the matter.

While Chirac and Holland tried to write off the incident as a bout of humour, politicians of all stripes were forced to react. Bruno Le Maire, agriculture minister in Sarkozy's conservative government, said he could “testify to the differences of view and understanding” between Chirac and Sarkozy but warned against “over-interpreting” the remarks.

Serious or not, Chirac’s endorsement was potentially a poisoned chalice for Hollande, who needs to build his left-wing credentials to win the forthcoming Socialist Party primaries.

Manuel Valls, a rival in the Socialist primaries, said that Chirac was “not a positive point of reference for the past, present or future.” The 78-year-old Chirac ruled France as a conservative president for 12 years until 2007.

Sarkozy not laughing

While Chirac’s comments did not add up to a full endorsement for Hollande, they stand in painful contrast to the treatment the former president has afforded President Sarkozy of late.

In the second volume of his memoirs, which hit bookshelves over the weekend, Chirac openly criticized Sarkozy and emphasized the lack of trust he had in his successor.

Jacques Chirac has enjoyed high approval ratings among the French as a former president, despite facing persistent charges of misusing public funds when he was the mayor of Paris.

He broke years of silence on his often bitter relationship with Sarkozy in the memoir, describing a nervous, brash and obsessively ambitious fellow party member.

Chirac may have backtracked on his support for Hollande, but the French media could not ignore the timing of his remark. “It’s not sure that [Chirac’s] joke on a Saturday in June made Sarkozy laugh out loud,” wrote journalist Jean-Claude Soulery sarcastically in the regional daily La Depeche du Midi.



Date created : 2011-06-13


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