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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The "compulsive comeback syndrome" or French politicians who refuse to bow out gracefully

La Nouvelle Édition on Canal + had an interesting segment during Monday's programme, the day following Nicolas Sarkozy's 45-minute interview on France 2 television explaining why he was making a return to frontline politics.

Now if you're reading this piece from outside of France, you can probably come up with a number of politicians who've run for (high) office in your country and, after having been beaten, have tried again at a later date.

Similarly you'll also probably be able list several who've been president or prime minister but after defeat have moved on gracefully to pastures new.

In France, while you might be hard-pressed to find examples of the latter, you don't need to look very far to find evidence of the former - particularly during the country's Fifth Republic, that means since 1958.

Defeat seems just to be another way of a politician turning round and saying, "It has perhaps been a blow to my ego, but I'll be back...count on it."

The most recent example, of course, is Nicolas Sarkozy.

Just a couple of years ago, when asked by Jean-Jacques Bourdin during an interview on BFM TV whether he would leave politics if defeated in the 2012 presidential election, his answer was unequivocal.


Take a look - and a listen.

Archive 2012 - Quand Sarkozy assurait qu'il... by BFMTV

But hey ho, as we all know, he has now changed his mind because...well, not only does he want to return...he also "doesn't have the choice".

In other words, it's something he's duty-bound to do.

And Sarkozy's case is far from being an isolated one among French politicians, as the segment on La Nouvelle Édition by journalist Elise Baudouin illustrated

In fact the seemingly peculiar French political "illness" even has a name (coined by Baudouin) -
the "compulsive comeback syndrome"

"Did you see Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush or Gordon Brown try again at a later date after their 'debacles'," asked Baudouin in her report.

"Germany's Gerhard Schröder, Spain's José María Aznar and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero?"

One notable absentee from the list was Italy's Silvio Berlusconi - perhaps proving the maxim the exception proves the rule (???).

In France though, it seems to have become common practice - successfully in the case of François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac both of whom achieved the highest office after suffering defeats.

Or aborted such as attempts of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Lionel Jospin.

And failed, as in the case of Ségolène Royal - although it probably won't have escaped your notice that she's currently a government minister.

Whatever the outcome, defeat doesn't seem to stop French politicians from seeking re-election at a later date.

The explanation - as far as the programme's political commentator Nicolas Domenach is concerned is two-fold.

Nicolas Domenach (screenshot La Nouvelle Édition, Canal +)

Not only is French politics a sort of "hard drug" for those bound up in it (that could probably also be said for politicians around the world), but the role of president is that almost of a "republican monarch" - the esteem with which a leader is held has been....well almost akin to that of royalty.

Not implausible by any means.

And on that premise, what's the betting that some very familiar faces (Alain Juppé, Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou and even perhaps Martine Aubry - all of whom have lost elections in the past) will, alongside Sarkozy, be among the front runners for the 2017 presidential race - or at least throw their hats into the ring at some point?

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