Jacques Chirac may be about to join the dunce-cap counter-pantheon of French ex-leaders held in low repute. The Economist summarizes the damage:
During Mr Chirac's two terms in office, French unemployment has averaged 10%, GDP per person has been overtaken by that of both Britain and Ireland, and public debt, at 66% of GDP, has grown faster than in any other European Union country. Over the past two years, the febrile French have rebuffed the president with assiduous regularity. They rebelled over Europe, by saying non in a referendum on its proposed constitution in May 2005. The multi-ethnic banlieues rebelled over social exclusion in three weeks of rioting in the autumn of 2005. The young rebelled over economic reform by taking to the streets against a less-secure job contract for the under-26s a year ago.
But anyone visiting France knows that things aren't that horrific, and anyone who has lived there for a couple of years like myself knows that grogner is the premier national habit, even while French food and drink are the envy of the planet. So what gives? At least in part, the dissatisfaction with Chirac mirrors the French overall malaise.
But Chirac has his own strangely despicable political double-crosses to blame in part. Notwithstanding his reneging on an oral promise to support Bush in the UN in 2003, the French Prez has a long record of backstabbing his own Gaullist allies, such as Valery Giscard D'Estaing. Here is the Economist take on his latest bobbing and weaving in an election he delusionally believed he could participate in for a third term until subterranean polls nudged his ambitions aside:
The first oddity of this election is that Mr Chirac has no natural successor from his own political family. On paper, it appears to be Mr Sarkozy. But Mr Chirac has not yet endorsed his candidacy. One by one, he has tried, and failed, to nurture alternative successors on the Gaullist right. Mr Juppé, his chosen heir, was disqualified by his conviction. Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, who publicly backed Mr Sarkozy's candidacy this week, ruled himself out by mismanaging the mass strikes and student protests last year.
But JC's final failure was probably unavoidable. His implication in the Oil-for-Food UN scandal and suspicions that Saddam's half-brother Ambassador to the UN in Geneva was keeping Chirac from abandoning long-time protege Saddam [Chirac as a junior nuclear minister was Saddam H's escort during his visit to France in the seventies and helped push through and implement the French Osirak nuclear reactor project destroyed by the Israelis in 1981] by the traditional bags of French Napoleons D'Or Saddam may have had pouched from Geneva to Paris. His place in French history will be ambiguous and fraught with controversy for decades hence.
I would like to see Nicolas Sarkozy win the first vote on April 22nd, but read this excellent Economist article for a rundown on France, Chirac, the upcoming elections, and how the US is not the only country undergoing a malaise at the moment.