PARIS — President Francois Hollande to reporters last week in a pun on the French word for both business activities and political scandals:
“Affaires’? They’re picking up again.”
Well might he smile. For the legacy of a turbulent past few weeks of intrigue may be to harm any hopes ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy has of avenging his 2012 defeat by Hollande in the next presidential election.
In quick succession, Sarkozy and France’s conservative opposition have been hit by allegations of improper use of party funds, influence-peddling and leaked tapes in which the former leader is heard trashing his then ministers.
Those under suspicion deny wrongdoing and accuse Hollande’s Socialists of using the judiciary to launch a smear campaign. The political heat spread to the government camp when his justice minister contradicted herself about the extent of her knowledge of the investigations underway.
Short-term, the saga has strengthened the suspicions of the French about the shadiness of their politicians. It will also do little to help mainstream parties, left or right, in town hall elections this month when the anti-immigrant National Front — France’s third political force — expects gains.
But more crucially, it has shown how Sarkozy’s comeback from early retirement to stand in the 2017 election — something the 59-year-old has said he would consider out of “duty” to the nation — is held hostage to legal upsets.