Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Facing The Music
One of the running jokes during the 2002 French presidential election was that Jacques Chirac not only had to run for president, he had to win, if he wanted to stay out of jail. Because from 1976 until his first presidential term began in 1995, as both mayor of Paris and head of the former Gaullist political party RPR, Chirac presided over an illegal patronage system whereby party hacks were offered plum municipal positions.
One of his top lieutenants and former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, was already sentenced to a year's probation (including exclusion from elected office) for his involvement. And there's plenty of evidence that Chirac himself was perfectly aware of the system. Besides that, though, there were also a couple bid-rigging scandals, as well as an illegal party financing scheme, all dating to his years as mayor.
The only thing that's kept him from being charged to date has been the presidential immunity granted by the French constitution up until a month after he leaves office.
Which is why there was some speculation that he might decide to run for a third term this year out of desperation. His decision not to, and his subsequent endorsement (if a tepid one) of Sarkozy's candidacy caused quite a bit of whispering about a deal struck between the two. The idea being that Sarkozy would enact a law placing a ten-year statute of limitations on corruption cases, which would effectively cover Chirac on his most serious legal worries.
Sarkozy vehemently denied the rumors at the time. But it's something else to watch for during his "first hundred days".