Strauss-Kahn Still Casting Shadows Over French Socialist Presidential Primaries

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn sighting on July 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo: Christopher Peterson - BuzzFoto - Getty Images)

With expectations high that New York prosecutors may drop their sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn prior to their looming Aug. 1 court date, the former International Monetary Fund chief is apparently trying to resume something closer to the normal life he led before his May 14 arrest. On July 15, Strauss-Kahn and wife Anne Sinclair drove from their rented Tribeca home to the Berkshires to attend a pair of classical concerts. Then over the weekend, the former favorite to win France’s 2012 presidential elections sat back and watched his supporters in Paris bustled to keep hopes of his bid for the Elysée alive. Just like old times.

Let’s just hope the music involved fewer false notes than the political chirping back home. Because while few observers believe DSK can mount a credible run for France’s presidency even if the New York case against him is abandoned—especially with new attempted rape charges pending in France–there is concern that efforts to get him back in that race could end up undermining the hopes of his fellow Socialists to beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the general election next spring.

Worries about “what if?” scenarios centering on Strauss-Kahn surfaced anew Sunday as French Socialist officials appeared to jockey over the possibility of DSK belatedly joining the party’s presidential primaries. Entries for that internal competition officially closed July 13 without Strauss-Kahn having entered. His participation in the primary was considered impossible unless the attempted rape charges against him were officially withdrawn, and improbable even if they were dropped given the revelations about his private life that followed his New York arrest. Yet given the drama and emotion in France following media reports that prosecutors’ concerns over the credibility of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser will lead them to shelve their case in the coming weeks, hopes had surged among DSK diehards that the former front-runner for the 2012 presidential race might indeed be able to make a belated entry once things settle down. Any notions of that, however, were nixed on Sunday by an official overseeing the party primary, who declared rules designating July 13 as the closing date for candidates to enter will be strictly enforced.

The (commission) possesses no text authorizing a waiver of that article,” said lawyer and Socialist official Jean-Pierre Mignard of his committee’s position on the July 13 deadline. “This is the rule of the primary.”

Mignard’s comments in Sunday’s le Parisien were intended as a definitive rejection of rising calls from Strauss-Kahn backers citing his American legal problems—and their probable resolution—as legitimate reasons for why he should be allowed to join late if he chooses to do so. Indeed, given the grinding effects of a long primary contest ending in October—and an equally long presidential campaign that will wind up in May–DSK supporters argue his justified tardiness could even benefit the left’s favorable, yet still fragile odds of capturing the Elysée.

“A late entry into a campaign that the current president hasn’t even declared his candidacy for yet wouldn’t be a handicap for DSK,” Antonio Duarte, one of the leading Strauss-Kahn’s partisans, recently wrote to the commission in appealing for a late entry waiver. “(He’d even) be viewed as the savior of the left.”

That depends on whom one asks—and there is no shortage of Socialists with quite different thoughts on the matter. Socialist leader Martine Aubry has been poignantly silence about the prospects of DSK entering the race—something she appears to view with a stony wait-and-see hostility. That’s probably a consequence of her own decision to stage a primary run  once she’d realized Strauss-Kahn’s legal woes had rendered her earlier deal to stay out of the race in deference to his own bid obsolete. She, like fellow contender Ségolène Royal, has preferred to lend fraternal vocal support to “Dominique” in his time of trouble, and leave the prospect of his participation in the primary as a possibility she’d rather not contemplate unless events force her to.

By contrast, the current leading contender for the Socialist candidacy, François Hollande, seems to feel he has more to win by taking DSK on frontally–and much to lose if the former favorite were to be denied his chance to run. That is rooted in underdog Hollande having thrown his hat into the contest very early on as a direct and public challenge to the former favorite DSK, with whom Hollande shares most policy positions. Now that events—and his own impressive campaigning—have helped lift him to the head of Socialists in polls, Hollande appears wary of any moves that might leave Strauss-Kahn looking to be the victim of fearful Socialists seeking to shut him out of the game using deadlines and other technicalities.

“Were the scenario of Dominique Strauss-Kahn deciding to run for the candidacy to materialize, it wouldn’t be up to Jean-Pierre Mignard to decide on that,” Hollande said Sunday while campaigning in Avignon. “Rather, it would be up to the other candidates to agree to a rule waiver.”

The reality is, however, Strauss-Kahn’s case may wind up poisoning the Socialist camp with speculation and doubt unless he steps up himself to dispel any ideas about his participation in upcoming contests. Even without the expired deadline to overcome, Strauss-Kahn’s legal problems probably won’t be entirely resolved in time for him to participate the Socialist primary in a manner he’d want to risk. Following media reports of the New York prosecution’s case being on the point of imploding, French author Tristane Banon filed charges with French legal officials accusing DSK of attempting to rape her in 2003. Inquiries into that case will likely take months, and cast a permanent pall over any potential Strauss-Kahn campaigning.

Meanwhile, the unsavory details about Strauss-Kahn’s private life that have been reported since his May arrest will linger in voter minds even if DSK manages to avoid all formal legal hurdles in New York. Whether cruel or justified, views of Strauss-Kahn that altered due to information uncorked by separate accusations against him in the U.S. will remain even after the charges that brought them to public attention are dropped.

For those reasons, many French political observers suspect continued maneuvering by DSK’s backers—much less a possible run by the man himself—risk producing a lose-lose threat to Socialist hopes for winning the Elysée. The mere suggestion of his return to the race, that view holds, will set off divisive counter-moves, verbal jousting, and personal attacks that may be sufficient to prevent the eventual winner of the primary to enjoy full back of reunited Socialist forces. Perhaps worse still, a possible late Strauss-Kahn entry to the race in violation of the rules would likely provoke cries of foul, claims he’d put personal ambition above party interests, and perhaps even bitter allusion about his private life from angry Socialists about DSK’s fitness for France’s top job.

Both scenarios, however, hold heavy promise of dividing the party and its voters. And both suggest Strauss-Kahn’s best contribution to the left’s 2012 presidential aspirations would be to adopt a new profile as an influential yet low-profile Socialist thinker and strategist, and forget his old life of being the brightest of its leading lights.