How the Strauss-Kahn Affair Upends French Politics

Strauss-Kahn was the socialist party's big chance

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IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's sexual assault charges don't just mess things up at the IMF: they toss things around on the French political scene, too. It's not just that Strauss-Kahn has been the leading candidate for France's Socialist Party--he has been the only viable candidate. What's more, up until now he had a pretty good chance of beating Sarkozy in the next election. Here's why that almost certainly won't happen now, and how that does a real number on French politics.

Strauss-Kahn Is 'Finished'  The Telegraph's Anne-Elisabeth Moute quotes  "French leading polling expert" Stéphane Rozè on this: "If the whole situation isn’t exposed for being a political set-up in the next 24 to 48 hours ... Monsieur Strauss-Kahn's political career is finished. He is, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty, but even suspicion of attempted rape will make it impossible for him to stand."

Why the French, Famously Blasé About Sex Scandals, Won't Overlook This One  True, "there is a rule in France which is to separate public and private life," admits Le Monde's chief political editor Françoise Fressoz in a live chat on the paper's website. "The French press has a custom of not talking of private life when it passes between consenting adults and has now political implications." But "in the case of the accusations against DSK, we're on a different level, because the accusation of rape has been brought up, whether falsely or accurately." Of course, Moutet over at The Telegraph explains the inevitability of this particular scandal a little differently: "It is well worth noting that it took the long arm of New York's finest to make the Strauss-Kahn scandal incontrovertible even to the very cagey French press." Moutet points out that Strauss-Kahn is notorious womaniser, and, as the recent second complaint of assault comes in, it is clear that there have been incidents like this before.

Why It Might Not Even Matter If He's Innocent  Le Monde devotes an entire editorial to this. As may be familiar to American readers, "with the immediacy of the media, political time is not the same as legal time. That Dominique Strauss-Kahn may in the end be declared innocent is almost without consequence for his political future," judge the editors. "The court procedure, which will last, prevents him from participating in the primary election of the Socialist Party. The shock of the affair ... is such that it will drive Mr. Strauss-Kahn from the political scene, whatever his culpability."

Why the Socialist Party Is Now a Mess  "The socialists lose the only candidate who had, in any possible configuration, the favor in the polls," states Nicolas Demorand for Libération. "No socialist has the ability to rally the center as Dominique Strauss-Kahn did," writes Françoise Fressoz, in the live chat as part of the French paper's ongoing coverage.

Who Benefits?  Sarkozy's probably happy about this, for starters. Anne-Elisabeth Moutet refers to Strauss-Kahn's "probable victory" against Sarkozy in the next elections, prior to this scandal. Sarkozy's numbers are famously low at present. Writes Moutet: "The French presidential race is wide open again, as DSK's closest contender in the Socialist primaries, the lacklustre François Hollande, and Nicolas Sarkozy refrain from commenting for fear of appearing too eager to take advantage of their rival’s meltdown. The only untroubled beneficiary is the Front National's Marine Le Pen." Le Monde's Françoise Fressoz adds: "François Hollande might actually be the big beneficiary of DSK's fall, notably because a certain number of important personages at the center of the Socialist Party were at once Pro-Strauss-Kahnians and Pro-Hollanders." But Fressoz adds that Hollande would "have to change his ... campaign" a bit. He also seems to remain pretty frank in his appraisal of the challenges now facing the Socialists.

French-language coverage also notes that former Socialist candidate against Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal, might be "encouraged" by Strauss-Kahn's exit as well. Notes Françoise Fressoz, she "certainly wants to present herself in the primaries."

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