'Yes We Kahn': IMF Boss May Challenge Sarkozy for French Presidency

By Julia Amalia Heyer

The head of the International Monetary Fund is currently the front-runner in next year's French presidential election. But Dominique Strauss-Kahn is keeping coy about his plans.

Photo Gallery: The Silence of Strauss-Kahn Photos
AFP

The so-called "phantom candidate" stands in the kitchen of his American home in Washington, DC, gently placing a slab of Chateaubriand on the stove, which has been converted to a grill.

White-haired, bronzed and bull-necked, Dominique Strauss-Kahn chose prime time on a Sunday evening to tell the French people how much he missed them. He said he was keeping a close eye on developments back home.

Then, while the camera panned between the sizzling meat and Strauss-Kahn's striking features, with his wife preparing a salad in the background, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finally addressed the issue on everyone's minds. Regrettably, he said, he already had a "mandate." Everything else was secondary. He flashed an enigmatic smile.

Strauss-Kahn is set to continue in Washington as head of the IMF until 2012. In this role, he earns €30,000 net a month, meets nearly all the world's leaders in person and flies around the globe about ten times a year (according to his assistants). Whenever IMF staffers play soccer against the World Bank, they wear T-shirts bearing the inscription "Yes, we Kahn." And Time magazine named him one of the world's 100 most powerful men.

Outstripping the Far Right

Polls in France describe the 61-year-old as the most promising candidate for next year's presidential elections. More to the point, opinion research suggests the Socialist can achieve what President Nicolas Sarkozy cannot: He seems capable of stripping the worryingly high popularity ratings of Marine Le Pen, who leads the far-right Front National.

If a presidential election were held between Strauss-Kahn and Sarkozy today, the former would get 60 percent of the vote compared to just 39 percent for the incumbent leader.

It may be the blend of proximity and distance, of nonchalance and possibly feigned indifference, that can help Strauss-Kahn win election as the seventh president of the Fifth Republic. Paris Match magazine calls him the "omnipresent absentee." A recent front page shows a smiling, photogenic Strauss-Kahn couple and the headline: "The Temptation of Paris."

But whereas others have announced their intention to run -- above all, Sarkozy and Le Pen -- Strauss-Kahn has yet to declare himself a candidate. This is not just because the Socialist Party won't decide on a candidate until mid-July. Rather, the former finance minister is keeping a deliberately low profile.

As managing director of the IMF, he lives far from Paris. As head of a supranational institution, he is forbidden from making statements about the political situation in France. Instead he prefers to let the world watch him grill a steak while reminding his compatriots in a most charming manner about what he means to them -- or could mean.

Strauss-Kahn is France's man of the hour, in part because no one else quite manages to embody the nation's hopes and fears. Nicholas Sarkozy is easily the most unpopular president the Fifth Republic has seen. That's why the traditionally left-leaning Greens aren't the only ones considering throwing their weight behind a DSK candidacy: Strauss-Kahn is also attractive to a more conservative section of the country's electorate. Another reason for DSK's cross-party popularity is his statesmanlike demeanor.

All he needs now is a state.

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BTraven 04/01/2011
Is he not too old for the job?
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