“Dominique Strauss-Kahn pushed Mike Huckabee off the front pages,” was one of the quips heard Sunday morning in reference to worldwide shock over the news that the International Monetary Fund managing director and leading French presidential candidate had been arrested the day before in New York. And in most news outlets, it did top Mike Huckabee’s announcement Saturday night that he wouldn’t run for the U.S. presidency.
But there is a lot more than stealing Huckabee’s thunder here in America to the headlines blaring the news that the French Socialist known as “DSK” was removed from a flight preparing to leave New York for Paris and charged with sexually assaulting an employee of the Sofitel New York hotel in Manhattan. However it plays out, the Strauss-Kahn affair will have a major impact on French politics and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which was already in the news for its role in the financial bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
At the time of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, signs were strong that the former finance minister would declare for the Socialist nomination for president of France by July, and he was rated a better-than-even contender against center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012. Virtually all surveys of French voters showed Sarkozy not only trailing DSK but sometimes running third behind the IMF boss and Marine Le Pen, leader of the controversial National Front.
No matter how his legal trouble turns out, Strauss-Kahn is now unlikely to be a candidate. This means that the situation Socialists dreaded the most in their primary later this year has come to pass: a clash in which the major candidates are 2007 nominee Segolene Royal and former Socialist Party General Secretary Francois Hollande, her former partner (they were never married) and father of her four children.
To say the least, the opportunities for satire here are endless—but not funny to the Left, which last won a presidential election in France in 1988.
Dogged by the moribund French economy and scandals involving his colleagues in government, Sarkozy apparently had avoided a contest with the Socialist he clearly feared most. Even before Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, news outlets from the Economist to the New York Times were focused more on Le Pen as a strong opponent, with all profiles noting that she sounded far less incendiary than her father, Jean Marie (who preceded her as National Front leader), in voicing their party’s hard line against illegal immigration.
Nevertheless, most French journalists who spoke to HUMAN EVENTS agreed that, with all his problems, Sarkozy would be reelected if he ended up in a run-off next May against Le Pen. Whether he would defeat a Socialist other than Strauss-Kahn remains to be seen.
In terms of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn and the finance ministers of many major other industrial nations have indicated that the next managing director should not come from Europe, as has been the case since the fund was founded after World War II. At the IMF/World Bank meetings last fall and in April of this year, speculation was rampant that Strauss-Kahn’s successor would come from a “developing nation,” such as Brazil, India, or even China.
But this almost revolutionary change would occur only when Strauss-Kahn stepped down.
Now it may happen sooner than anyone expected—and under circumstances no one could have guessed a week ago.