Arrest torpedoes Strauss-Kahn French presidential hopes
IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on sexual assault charges looked Sunday to have destroyed his high hopes of beating Nicolas Sarkozy in France's 2012 presidential election.
Polls had placed Strauss-Kahn as French voters' favourite potential candidate for the election, ahead of fellow members of the Socialist party and Sarkozy, whose approval ratings have plunged during his time in power.
Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to announce a bid for his party's candidacy and sniping against him by political rivals was already in full swing, with opponents sneering at his perceived cosmopolitan lifestyle.
But no verbal mudslinging could do as much harm as his shock arrest on Saturday, on charges of sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel room, which had pundits and politicians on left and right declaring his hopes dead.
One of his key electoral rivals, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who polls show could win the first round of the vote, seized on the news, telling RTL radio Sunday that Strauss-Kahn was "definitively discredited as a candidate for the highest state office."
Bernard Debre, a lawmaker of Sarkozy's UMP party, called the news "inacceptable... very humiliating for our country."
As far as Strauss-Kahn's election hopes are concerned, "it's over. He is not a commendable man," Debre told Europe 1 radio.
Influential left-winger Jacques Attali said Strauss-Kahn could not run for president nor continue as managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Previously the worst of Strauss-Kahn's worries was the sniggering over a photograph of him getting in a Porsche, judged too posh for a left-winger. He said Friday he was suing a newspaper over its reporting of his personal life.
Several electoral opinion polls had placed him ahead of the Socialist Party's leader Martine Aubry, its former head Francois Hollande, and far ahead of its last presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.
But the dramatic arrest on Saturday -- with New York police hauling Strauss-Kahn off an Air France flight minutes before it took off -- turned the prospects for the election on their head.
"It is going to be Martine Aubry versus Francois Hollande for the candidacy," Attali said.
It was too early on Sunday to tell how the presidential race might reshape itself if Strauss-Kahn is taken out of the running and how the Socialists might seek to regroup ahead of their primary to choose a candidate in October.
Royal, a high-profile party member who ran for president in 2007 and is running again for the Socialist nomination for 2012, said the arrest was "staggering" but stressed Strauss-Kahn was innocent until proven guilty.
"It is a shock. I learned this staggering news, about which everything remains to be verified," Royal told Europe 1 radio.
"Let us wait for justice to do its work and not turn this into a political soap opera," she added. "The time has not yet come to comment on the consequences of this affair for domestic politics."
Party leader Aubry had yet to comment and there was no word from Sarkozy's camp, but with the president's approval ratings stuck at around a third it seemed his prospects could only benefit from a Socialist scandal.
"The president is far from beaten," Attali said.
© 2011 AFP