Sep 05, 2014

    Hollande's love life casts pall on his leadership

    ANY man who has betrayed or left a woman secretly dreads her judgment and hopes she'll never go public with what she knows about him.

    French President Francois Hollande is now living that nightmare.

    Valerie Trierweiler, who was Mr Hollande's companion when he became president, has written a book, Thank You For This Moment, in which the politician is described as a lying, cheating hypocrite.

    The former first lady picked an inconvenient moment to be frank about her failed relationship: Mr Hollande has just kicked out prominent leftists from his government to pursue a more conservative, pro-business policy, a risky move for a leader of the Socialist Party.

    In extracts from the book leaked to the French media, Ms Trierweiler does not try to hide her jealousy. She describes her anger at Mr Hollande when he supported his former partner, Segolene Royal, in a parliamentary campaign after promising not to do so.

    She writes that the President swore "on my son's head" that rumours of his affair with actress Julie Gayet were not true. Then the tabloid magazine Closer published photos of Mr Hollande riding pillion on a scooter to see Gayet.

    Ms Trierweiler recalled how the President tried to snatch a bag of sleeping pills from her.

    But the bag tore and the pills became scattered. The former first lady tried to take all the pills she could reach, as she didn't want to "live through the hours that are about to come".

    A few days later, Mr Hollande announced that Ms Trierweiler was no longer part of his life. "Eighteen icy words," she writes.

    Although the French are largely tolerant of politicians' private escapades, Mr Hollande is not likely to get much sympathy. He is already the least popular of all modern French leaders, with approval ratings hovering between the high teens and low 20s.

    The former first lady makes sure to portray Mr Hollande as hypocritical about his politics, not just his personal affairs.

    "He presents himself as a man who does not like the rich. In fact, the President doesn't like the poor. He... calls them 'the toothless' in private, and he's proud of his sense of humour."

    An angry former partner might not be a reliable source, but I find it hard to feel for Mr Hollande.

    It has nothing to do with issues of morality. In most European cultures, unlike in America, politicians are not expected to be paragons of virtue in their personal lives.

    In Germany, an affair like the one Mr Hollande conducted with Gayet could have gone unreported because of the privacy protection afforded to politicians.

    What is distasteful, in the French President's case, is the easy insincerity and the tactical mendacity. One has to wonder if that is his mode of operation in affairs of state, too.

    Perhaps this is my authoritarian Russian upbringing talking, but if Mr Hollande cannot dissuade his partner from taking a handful of pills, how can he be expected to run a nation in crisis, faced with a real threat of an extreme right-wing resurgence?

    If he is not convincing even to the ones close to him, how can the French respect him?

    Ms Trierweiler's book is a low blow to a man already coping badly with one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The former first lady has dealt it knowingly, feeling Mr Hollande deserves it.

    France is likely to think so, too.