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Strauss-Kahn Scandal Fallout In France: Presidential Hopes Are All But Dead

Editorial: Allegations of sexual assault against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have almost certainly ruined his chances of ever becoming president. But the scandal’s wider implications could include a further boost to France’s far right.

Strauss-Kahn Scandal Fallout In France: Presidential Hopes Are All But Dead
Henri Gibier

PARIS - It took only a few minutes, Saturday afternoon in a hotel in Manhattan, for Dominique Strauss-Kahn's career to be tainted by scandal. The inquiry into the allegations made against the IMF head has only just begun, but the damage inflicted to his image and reputation has already reached the point of no return. Strauss-Kahn may proclaim his innocence, and his supporters may speak of an international conspiracy – certainly their positions should be given as much attention as that of his accuser – but the damage has already been done. And the damage is obviously considerable.

First of all, the affair deals a heavy blow to the French left. The Socialist Party seemed convinced that Strauss-Kahn's candidacy for the 2012 presidential election was a done deal, that his eventual campaign may even be unstoppable.

It is true that certain Socialist loyalists continued to harbor doubts about the 62-year-old's capacity to embody the party's values, about his free-market stance on the economy as illustrated by his IMF role, about his flamboyant lifestyle, or about his commitment to French political life. But his experience and undeniable skills seemed poised to largely counterbalance any of his alleged weaknesses, and his communication experts were expected to do the rest.

Polls consistently showed that he was the most popular Socialist candidate, even after Francois Hollande's deft entrance into the fray for the Socialist Party primaries. But it now seems that the entire left has been caught off-guard by Strauss-Kahn's alleged sexual assault. Should the U.S. legal system confirm its charges, the entire Socialist Party would be deeply embarrassed by such an appalling scenario.

This is not to say that Nicolas Sarkozy's camp should start celebrating. Obviously, the electoral equation has suddenly become more favorable to him, even if other figures in the president's own political family (such as the centrist Jean-Louis Borloo) might feel spurred into the presidential battle by the downfall of such a formidable adversary as Strauss Kahn.

On the wider political stage, on the other hand, France's conservative leader has absolutely nothing to gain in the likely event that Marine Le Pen, head of the far right National Front Party, succeeds in centering the next presidential election campaign on populist topics so dear to her.

The French have been increasingly tempted, especially after the recent economic crisis, to distance themselves from those who, within the country's political class or at the head of the administration or the economy, are the representatives of the so-called "circle of reason" ( le cercle de la raison). If it turns out that one of the brightest members of this group has been capable of such unreasonable behavior, the chances are high that France could fall victim not only to its anger, but also to a feeling of embarrassment. And if that happens, then all bets are off, as the likelihood grows that voters make a much more adventurous choice on Election Day.

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