Gaffe-prone former French prime minister Raffarin retires from politics
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Veteran French conservative Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former prime minister who was frequently teased for his bizarre aphorisms, known as “raffarinades”, announced on Tuesday he was quitting politics to set up an NGO.
A moderate conservative accustomed to working behind the scenes, Raffarin stepped into the national and international limelight in 2002 as president Jacques Chirac’s surprise pick for prime minister.
He was viewed as a consensus-building politician who could unite the country after the shock of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s second place in the presidential election of 2002, but his term was marked by social unrest, multiple gaffes and cabinet squabbles, leading to the perception that he lacked gravitas.
He is perhaps best remembered for his incorrigible habit of uttering curious aphorisms, known colloquially as “raffarinades”, which made him a subject of amusement at home and abroad.
The ‘yes’ needs the ‘no’
Raffarin’s memorable lines include, “It is rather odd that in France widows should outlive their husbands”, and, “Who sows division reaps Socialism”.
His most memorable quote, delivered in English in the run-up to 2005 referendum, has come to define both his government’s ill-fated campaign and French politician’s notoriously bad English.
It goes like this: "Win the ‘yes’ needs the ‘no’ to win against the ‘no’!"
His period in office was marred by embarrassing electoral defeats, including a wipeout in regional elections in 2004 that saw the Socialist opposition win all but one of mainland France’s 22 regions.
Raffarin eventually resigned in 2005 after his government’s shock loss in a referendum on a draft constitution for the European Union, though he remained a prominent figure in the conservative camp thereafter.
Making way for new generation
Raffarin, who was first elected to the French parliament in 1977, said Tuesday he would vacate his Senate seat for the western Poitou-Charente region in September, three years before the end of his term.
“A new generation of politicians is taking the reins of the country and this is a good thing,” said the 68-year-old, referring to the recent presidential and legislative elections that have led to a profound renewal in France’s politics.
Raffarin had been touted as someone who could rally moderate conservatives behind President Emmanuel Macron, whose centrist party has won a majority in the lower-house National Assembly but is yet to gain a foothold in the Upper House Senate.
Instead, he said he would quit politics to set up an advocacy group known as 'Leaders for Peace', which he described as “an international NGO aimed at raising awareness of the threat of armed conflict”.