Strauss-Kahn allies dream of political return
France's opposition dreamed of a return by Dominique Strauss-Kahn to help fight Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency as their fallen champion was freed from house arrest Friday.
Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said the New York court's decision to ease bail conditions for the ex-IMF head, formerly their best hope for next year's presidential vote, "is a moment of intense relief for us."
Strauss Kahn's political career was written off along with his role as head of the International Monetary Fund when he was arrested in New York on May 14, charged with sexually assaulting and trying to rape a hotel maid.
But when the New York Times reported Thursday that the case against Strauss-Kahn was collapsing due to doubts over the victim's credibility, his French Socialist allies immediately saw fresh political hope.
"It's a thunderbolt -- but in the opposite direction this time," said Socialist former prime minister Lionel Jospin, referring to the shock when the news of Strauss-Kahn's arrest broke on May 14.
His allies were too cautious to suggest Strauss-Kahn would try to run for president after the scandal, but agreed he could have a huge impact on his party's morale if he were cleared of the accusations and returned to politics.
"His presence alongside us would be decisive for our success in the presidential election," said Jack Lang, a leading Socialist former minister, on BFMTV.
Strauss-Kahn will be "an indispensable player in political life in the coming months", Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist member of parliament close to the former IMF head, said on France Inter radio.
Hamon told reporters: "The most important development today is that the (New York) prosecutor now recognises that there is a strong doubt over the accuser's claims."
French television showed Strauss-Kahn leaving the courthouse with his wife, French journalist Anne Sinclair, free to travel in the United States -- but not abroad -- until his next court appearance on July 18.
"Still, the accusation has not dropped its case, so we will wait for July 18... to see the new developments in this affair," Hamon added.
Strauss-Kahn's departure from the presidential race prompted the Socialist Party's leader Martine Aubry to step up and declare her candidacy this week, running for the nomination against former party leader Francois Hollande.
The deadline for applying for the party nomination is July 13. A close party ally of Strauss-Kahn, Michele Sabban, called for the primary process to be suspended so he has time to run.
Hamon said ahead of the New York court hearing Friday that such a suspension was not currently under discussion.
The third Socialist candidate in the race, former presidential contender Segolene Royal played down the prospect of a return by Strauss-Kahn.
"In human terms, that's not likely to be one of his priorities," she said.
"The trauma suffered by him and those close to him is after all quite dreadful."
Aubry said she hoped the New York Times report would allow Strauss-Kahn to "end his nightmare", but did not comment on how it would affect the party's primary to choose a presidential candidate in October.
Citing law enforcement sources, the New York Times said prosecutors did not believe much of the story from the maid and suspect she has repeatedly lied to them. Strauss-Kahn denies all the charges against him.
The scandal had raised the faint prospect of Sarkozy recovering from his low approval ratings to win re-election against a shaken and shamed opposition, despite their lead in the polls.
"I think Sarkozy and his friends had a very rude awakening this morning," said Socialist MP Claude Bartolone on Friday.
© 2011 AFP