French election descends into soap opera with Segolene Royal defeat
By Gina Doggett
PARIS — Twin rivalries — one political, the other amorous — doomed Segolene Royal, former partner of French President Francois Hollande, to suffer a humiliating defeat in Sunday’s legislative polls.
Conceding defeat, Royal initially kept her remarks in the political arena, bitterly slamming the “political betrayal” of Socialist dissident Olivier Falorni, who was kicked out of the party for refusing to step aside so that she could run in his fiefdom, the western city of La Rochelle.
“I can’t hide my disappointment,” the elegant and normally smiling Royal, 58, said after Falorni trounced her with 63 percent of the vote — of which she said three-quarters came from right-wing voters.
But the chattering classes — and especially the Twitterverse — will put the massive loss down to a seemingly innocuous tweet by Holland’s current partner, the 47-year-old unofficial first lady of France, Valerie Trierweiler.
In it, the glamorous journalist who began a relationship with the future president back in 2005 wished luck to Falorni, a relatively unknown politician, in his election bid.
To the French, the tweet was a zinger aimed squarely at Royal, who had shared Hollande’s life for three decades, bearing him four children and consigning Trierweiler to the shadows for years of secret love.
The message wrong-footed the Socialist party, which was set to make Royal speaker of parliament after her expected comfortable win in La Rochelle.
Royal, an MP since 1988, said Sunday that she could have snapped up the seat in the first round a week ago if it were not for Falorni, adding in an understatement that Trierweiler’s tweet “didn’t help.”
Hollande tried to contain the damage by publicly throwing his weight behind Royal, saying she was “the only candidate of the presidential majority who can be assured of my support.”
Sunday’s defeat is the latest in a series of losses for the woman who carried the hopes of the left in a bruising 2007 presidential bid that ended in defeat by right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande and Royal officially split the same year.
Then in 2008, she lost a bid for the Socialist Party leadership to Martine Aubry amid allegations of vote-rigging.
And last year, she failed in the Socialist primary for this year’s presidential vote before gritting her teeth to rally behind her ex-partner out of sheer party loyalty.
“Betrayal always betrays the traitor” in the end, Royal said Sunday, adding that she planned to “continue to have an impact on national policy decisions.”
The tweet by Trierweiler, a twice-divorced mother of three who has kept her job at Paris Match magazine and has not married Hollande, added spice to an otherwise lacklustre campaign for Sunday’s runoff.
Eric Ciotti, from Sarkozy’s UMP party, declared that “vaudeville has come to the Elysee” presidential palace, while another UMP politician said “it’s ‘Dallas’ at the Elysee”, referring to the steamy US soap opera.
Photo AFP, Nicolas Tucat