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Why would such a man appeal to French Socialists? The answer is that he didn’t appeal to the party’s hard-left faction, but to the so-called moderate French voter in general, due in large part to his economic acumen as well as his previous track record in government as a junior Minister for Industry and Foreign Trade from 1991-1993, and Minister of Economics, Finance, and Industry from 1997-1999. During that last two year stint, he earned the admiration of his party’s rank and file when he catered to the immigrant community in Sarcelles, a Paris suburb. He resigned from government at that point to fight corruption charges against him for which he was eventually cleared. In 2007, he ran for the Socialist Party’s presidential nomination, but was trounced by 40 points. Seemingly out of government, he was appointed to head the IMF by Nicolas Sarkozy, who likely believed it would be a graceful way to usher DSK out of power permanently.
The financial crisis of 2008 propelled Strauss-Kahn back into the spotlight, and seemingly back into the hearts of the French electorate who saw him as a possible savior of the economy. His chances grew even better back in March when President Sarkozy’s UMP party was soundly defeated in regional elections, taking 35 percent of the popular vote, compared with 54 percent for the Socialists. The far-right National Front took nearly 18 percent in the 12 regions where it qualified after a runoff election.
Yet even with the sex scandal unfolding, Mr. Sarkozy, who undoubtedly benefits from DSK’s political ruination, remains cautious. Perhaps sensing he can win over some of Strauss-Kahn’s centrist supporters, he reportedly urged members of his party in a private meeting to “keep calm and display a sense of dignity and decency.”
UMP party member Michel Debre refused to remain silent. “It’s not the first time that DSK is involved in this kind of actions [sic] at the Sofitel,” he was quoted as saying on the Internet site of weekly L’Express. “That’s where he always stayed. It happened several times and for several years.” Front National party leader Marine Le Pen, who represents France’s blue collar voters and anti-immigration sentiment, was even more direct. “The truth, and everyone knows it, is that Paris has buzzed for months if not years in political and journalistic circles about the pathological relationship M. Strauss-Kahn has with women. This week’s news is not exactly surprising,” she said.
As for the Socialist Party itself, the internal battle to replace Strauss-Kahn has already begun. IFOP spokesman Jerome Fourquet and political analyst Stephane Rozes contend that former Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande is now the front-runner to replace Strauss-Kahn. ”He clearly gives the impression of a fierce and lasting desire to run,” Fourquet said. “In France we say the election is won by the person who wants to win it most.” Rozes added a different perspective. “DSK resembled Sarkozy, and in this regard Francois Hollande is much more dangerous for the president,” he said.
Socialist deputy Claude Bartolone has other ideas. “Let’s unite behind the person who has the legitimacy to represent this unity, the first secretary of the Socialist Party,” he said referring to Martine Aubry. Aubry remained noncommittal. ”Unity, responsibility, combativeness, these are the three words which came up the most this morning,” she told reporters after a meeting of party leaders Tuesday in Paris. ”There was emotion, of course, and the shock we all feel, but it is our responsibility to be up to the task [of replacing Strauss-Kahn].” Aubry feels optimistic about her party’s chances. “I say to the French people: we will be ready in 2012.”
Whether France is ready for Aubry remains in doubt: a small-sample Harris Interactive poll in French newspaper Le Parisien has Hollande at 49 percent, Aubry 23 percent and Segolene Royal, defeated by Sarkozy in 2007, at 10 percent. For Aubry, this is quite a comedown from the Socialists’ victory in March for which she received a large degree of credit. Unfortunately, according to many analysts, she is dogged by a combative style and a lack of charisma.
Yet the French political landscape is certainly fluid at this juncture. To give one perspective on how quickly things have changed, a poll immediately preceding the above had Strauss-Kahn at 41 percent, Francois Hollande at 24 percent, and Martine Aubry at 18 percent. And there are additional Socialist Party candidates who might run, including Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, who would be most appealing to the party’s left, and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who gained popularity for his out-of-the-box thinking on city projects.
France conducts its presidential election in two rounds, scheduled for April 29 and May 6, 2012. The Socialist Party’s primary will be held in October. And despite the fact that President Sakozy has yet to officially announce his candidacy, his UMP Party has no primary scheduled at all. Tellingly, the last IFOP poll taken before his arrest had Strauss-Kahn eliminating Sarkozy in the first round by a margin of 26 percent to 21.5 percent. He would have faced Le Pen and her 22 percent of the vote total in a runoff.
And now it’s over. Strauss-Kahn sits in a cell at Riker’s Island accused of forcing a housekeeper to perform oral sex against her will. He has been denied bail due to the fact that he is considered a flight risk after authorities took him off an Air France plane bound for Paris last Saturday only minutes before takeoff and because France does not extradite citizens to the United States. Further complicating matters for Strauss-Kahn is a report that his alleged victim lives in a Bronx apartment building reserved for people with AIDS. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Ben Branfman insists the sex was consensual. ”The evidence, we believe, will not be consistent with a forcible encounter,” he said. The alleged victim’s lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, was undeterred. “She will tell her story. She’s happy to do that because she’s telling the truth,” he said in an interview with Chris Wragge, co-anchor of “The Early Show” on CBS.
In the meantime, Strauss-Kahn, who is presumed innocent until proven guilty, remains on suicide watch at Rikers after undergoing a health exam. A grand jury has until Friday to decide whether or not the case goes to trial. Only the two people involved really know what happened. Hopefully, the truth, whatever it may be, will prevail.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.
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