Political backlash against Francois Hollande grows over affair handling

Wednesday 29 January 2014 20.33
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Valerie Trierweiler, the ex-partner of French President Francois Hollande, interacts with residents during a visit to the Ekta Nagar slums in the Mandala area of Mumbai
Valerie Trierweiler, the ex-partner of French President Francois Hollande, interacts with residents during a visit to the Ekta Nagar slums in the Mandala area of Mumbai
Francois Hollande has been warned that women will not quickly forget the manner in which he announced his relationship was over
Francois Hollande has been warned that women will not quickly forget the manner in which he announced his relationship was over

French President Francois Hollande has been hit with a backlash over the manner in which he dumped former first lady Valerie Trierweiler after being caught having a secret affair.

French politicians have displayed an unusual willingness to voice their opinion on what Mr Hollande's handling of the affair and its messy aftermath indicate about the character of the head of state.

The verdict, from his political rivals at least, has not been kind to the 59-year-old president, who has found himself in a similar position before.

He left the mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, for Ms Trierweiler after an affair that biographers say was conducted in secret for years before he owned up to it.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a leading light in the opposition UMP, warned Mr Hollande that women voters would not quickly forget the dry manner in which he announced that the relationship with Ms Trierweiler was over in a statement.

"I felt like I was reading a sacking letter rather than a break-up one," said the deputy who is aiming to become the next mayor of Paris.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the Party of the Left, added: "His statement was that of an oaf. You just have to read it ... me, me, me."

Even an ally of Mr Hollande said the president had dealt with Ms Trierweiler ruthlessly after denying for months that he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

"As soon as the Closer revelations came out, Valerie was treated like a tricky political issue, to be dealt with coldly," the ally was quoted as saying by the Journal du Dimanche.

Two other prominent figures, National Front leader Marine Le Pen and the centre right deputy Henri Guaino, have accused Mr Hollande of first promoting Ms Trierweiler to a quasi-official role before "repudiating" her in the manner of a medieval monarch.

"It was the head of state who put Madame Trierweiler at the centre of our institutions and installed her at the Elysee - inevitably this affair is a public matter," Mr Guaino said.

The character assassination inflicted on Mr Hollande reflects a total breakdown in the French political class's traditional reticence about making politicians' conduct in their private lives an issue for the consideration of voters.

And it forced Harlem Desir, the First Secretary of Mr Hollande's Socialist Party, to come to the president's defence.

"He is a very human and very sensitive character," Mr Desir said.

"He expressed himself with a certain restraint and discretion because he did not want the tempo of the debate to be dictated by gossip magazines."

Most polls suggest Mr Hollande's standing has not been affected by 'Gayetgate' but his approval ratings - already the worst of any recent president - could scarcely fall any lower, so it is difficult to assess the actual impact.

Surveys repeatedly return results that suggest the French are not interested, but the booming sales of Closer and similar magazines tell a different story.

Ms Trierweiler, meanwhile, began carving out a new role for herself on a long-planned trip to India for the Action against Hunger charity she is associated with.

Snapped cradling an ailing child in a Mumbai slum, Ms Trierweiler was given a sympathetic reception in India and revealed that she plans to continue charity work rather than returning to her previous role as a political journalist for weekly glossy Paris Match.

The prospect of covering Mr Hollande would be "too complicated" she admitted at the end of a two-day trip in which she impressed with her dignified handling of a press pack anxious to get her side of the split story.

The other woman in the presidential love triangle, Ms Gayet, has meanwhile been keeping a very low profile, although friends of the actress have been quoted in the media as saying she has no intention of trying to become the next first lady.