Leaders of France's Socialist Party were quick to hail the news of Dominique Strauss-Khan's release from house arrest on Friday. But the prospect of his political comeback has highlighted internal divisions ahead of party primaries.
Socialist Party leaders had good reason to cheer on Friday. As the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a key figure within the party, teetered on the verge of collapse, members of France's main opposition party openly expressed feelings of joy and relief.
But joy soon gave way to discomfort when talk turned to Strauss-Kahn’s possible political comeback.
Before prosecutors in New York slapped Strauss-Kahn in May with charges of forcing a hotel maid to perform sexual acts and attempting to rape her, many in France regarded him as the frontrunner in next year’s presidential election.
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Prosecutors have not dropped the charges against the French politician, but have admitted to holes in his accuser’s story. Strauss-Kahn has been released from house arrest pending further hearings.
At least one of his political allies called on the Socialists on Friday to suspend the party’s primaries scheduled for October.
"I held on to the hope that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could eventually take part in the primaries,” said Michèle Sabban, a Paris region lawmaker and steadfast Strauss-Kahn supporter.
Political timetables, divisions
While other Socialist Party members were more guarded in their reactions than Sabban, almost all felt obliged to comment on the prospect of Strauss-Kahn’s return to the presidential race.
Former Socialist Party head François Hollande, another frontrunner in the primaries, said he would support a move to delay the July 13 deadline for candidates to declare their intention to run.
Strauss-Kahn’s next hearing at the New York City court is scheduled for July 18.
But Manuel Valls, a prominent Socialist mayor from the Paris region and also a presidential hopeful, was quick to warn that the developments in New York should not affect the Socialists' priorities in France.
"We should not jump to conclusions, and should not confuse the American justice system’s timetables with our political timetable," Valls said. “I do not see why we would change any dates."
Hollande, whom several pollsters regard as the current favourite in the primaries, said the voting should still take place in October as scheduled, with or without Strauss-Kahn.
According to Jean-Daniel Lévy, a research director at the polling agency Harris-Interactive, the impact of Strauss-Khan's release on the Socialist Party was not necessarily positive.
"As early as Saturday we saw dissention in the opinion expressed by the different Socialists," Lévy explained.
Some party members lamented these emerging differences.
Christophe Borgel, who is in charge of organising the Socialist primaries, asked party members to stop speculating about Strauss-Khan’s eventual return to politics.
“The Socialists are extraordinary!” a sarcastic Borgel exclaimed Friday, “We have every reason to rejoice and yet we throw ourselves at the first debate that is meant to divide us.”
Date created : 2011-07-02