DSK 'thunderbolt' rocks French politics as plot theories abound


Commentators were unanimous in predicting an end to the political career of Strauss-Kahn, writes RUADHÁN Mac CORMAICin Paris

FRANCE’S POLITICAL class was reeling yesterday after Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest threw open the race for next year’s presidential election and provoked claims of a plot to discredit the head of the International Monetary Fund.

The Socialist Party said it would continue with plans to open nominations for its presidential primary next month despite the arrest of the clear favourite. Senior party members will meet today to discuss the news its leader, Martine Aubry, called a “thunderbolt”.

Having remained mostly silent on the affair for 24 hours, members of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government gave cautious reactions. “As well as the alleged victim, the chambermaid, there is another confirmed victim, which is France,” said environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

On the left, the images of Strauss-Kahn, handcuffed and unshaven, being led towards a police car in New York, generated widespread shock. Manuel Valls, a declared candidate for the presidency, said the photos were “an unbearable cruelty” while Aubry said she was shocked by such “deeply humiliating” photos.

“Happily, we live in a country where, thanks to the presumption of innocence, one cannot show men or women at this stage of proceedings handcuffed,” she said.

Politicians from all parties said Strauss-Kahn, popularly known by his initials DSK, should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but political commentators were unanimous in pronouncing the last rites on his political career.

“Unbelievable, incredible, inconceivable,” read the leader column in Le Figaro, a daily newspaper sympathetic to President Nicolas Sarkozy. “As we wait for truth to be sorted from falsehood, one thing is already certain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be the next president of the French Republic,” it said.

“DSK Out” proclaimed the left-wing Libération’s front page, introducing 10 pages of coverage on the story. Recent polls had placed Strauss-Kahn as favourite to wrest control of the Élysée Palace from the unpopular Sarkozy in 2012, and he was widely expected to leave his post as managing director of the IMF next month to declare for the Socialist Party’s primary.

“The Socialists have lost the only candidate who was, in all possible configurations, leading in the polls. And who was capable of beating Nicolas Sarkozy,” Libération’s editor, Nicolas Demorand, wrote. “This promising political dynamic has collapsed before the campaign has even begun.”

A number of Strauss-Kahn’s allies and opponents raised the possibility that the socialist was the victim of a plot or trap. “Those close to him cannot believe he is guilty, and he will soon be back with us,” his close confidant Jean-Christophe Cambadélis said.

He remarked, without elaborating, that enemies had “promised a nuclear attack” should Strauss-Kahn declare a presidential bid.

“It’s the IMF that they wanted to decapitate, not just the candidate in the socialist primary,” Michèle Sabban, a senior councillor on the Paris regional council, told Le Monde.

Two right-wing rivals, Christine Boutin and Dominique Paillé, also suggested the possibility of a politically-motivated plot, but the theory was dismissed by Kosciusko-Morizet. “It’s so French to see plots everywhere,” she said.