French Socialist Primary Field Takes Shape Sans Strauss-Kahn

Five candidates have announced for the French Socialist Primary in October. With Strauss-Kahn out, winner may well be France's next president.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 08:38

Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande

While the prosecution authorities are going to drop charges against Dominique Strauss Kahn, and a vast majority of Frenchmen consider him exonerated and a victim of the Americans, most French voters surveyed do not want him to run in the Socialist primary scheduled for October.

The best indication that Strauss will not be running is that most of his allies have announced their support for one of the five declared candidates.

Given the unpopularity of French president Nicholas Sarkozy, the left in France has a good chance of retaking the presidency for the first time in 17 years. During that interval it did form the government between 1997-2002. Since in all probability the Spanish Socialists will lose next year's election, this will elevate a victorious socialist candidate into the leadership of the entire European left.

The two  front runners are the current party secretary and the Mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, and Francois Hollande who preceded her in that post. According to the polls, if the election were held now, both would beat Sarkozy.

Aubry is the daughter of Jacques Delors, who served as finance minister under Francois Mitterand and spent two terms as president of the European commission. He was considered presidential timber but elected not to run. She made her mark as the minister of Employment and Solidarity in the gauche pluriel -pluralistic left governments of Lionel Jospin, where in an effort to reduce unemployment, France went to a 35 hour workweek.

This "achievement" is double-edged. On the one hand, it has endeared her to left of the party who believe that the government can continue to ameliorate conditions irrespective of global competition.  It constitutes a liability amongst voters who consider such policies irresponsible or utopian. Aubry is strong among the party's left wing as well as among some past heavyweights, such as former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and former culture minister Jack Lang.

Hollande commands the support of many elected mayors and legislators. He is considered more of a centrist than Ms. Aubry,  although both  are"Enarches"-- graduates of the elitist ENA, National School of Administration.

The socialist mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, who endorsed Hollande said Francois "Hollande has always been a Social Democrat " In the jargon of the European left, the term Social Democrat has usually been reserved for more pragmatic and less ideological politicians. Ries was elected mayor in a strongly Catholic region that has traditionally been a bastion of conservatism and he would prefer Hollande to be seen as the centrist for that reason.

The distinction may prove significant in the party primaries. The French Socialist primary is an "open" primary meaning that you do not have to be a registered socialist in order to vote and therefore the polls show that one out of every five Frenchmen intends to vote in the primary.

The advantage of an open primary is precisely the fact that it will attract wider participation with the expectation that those who participate in it and chose well, will stick with the victorious candidate in the general election.

The disadvantage with the open primary is that it can be contaminated by voters from other parties who will want to influence the results. The presumption is that this factor will work to the advantage of Aubry, as voters from the still sizable far left will vote for her in the primaries.