France marks Chirac’s death after 40 years of political dominance
Former French president Jacques Chirac, who led from 1995 to 2007, has died aged 86.
Chirac had one of the longest continuous political careers in Europe, serving twice as president, twice prime minister and 18 years as Paris mayor.
He won the presidential election at his third attempt when he beat Lionel Jospin in 1995 and in 2002 against the far-right Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was prime minister from 1974 to 1976 and again from 1986 to 1988.
His first term as president was marred by a self-inflicted blunder. In 1997 his right-of-centre allies had a parliamentary majority when Chirac called an unnecessary general election, which the Socialist opposition won.
Nicknamed “Le Bulldozer” early in his career for his determination and ambition, as president he failed to reform the economy or defuse tensions between the police and minorities that exploded into riots in 2005.
Chirac proved to have little vision or determination. He campaigned on the fracture sociale (social divide) but did little to address it.
He did push through improvements to road safety and reform of military service but at the end of his 12 years as head of state, it was hard to point to major reforms to a country that badly needed reinvigorating.
He did acknowledge France’s role in the Holocaust, ending the myth of his nation’s innocence.
“Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state,” he said in 1995.
Chirac stood up to then US president George W Bush when he tried to win French support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq at the United Nations.
In March 2003, Chirac vowed to use the French veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to block the invasion. His justification was that International the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors had found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
When his presidential immunity was lifted, a court convicted him of corruption during his years as mayor of Paris. It was found his staff used public money to employ members of his political party in fake jobs. Chirac, by then frail with a faltering memory, was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011.
“Even his political enemies … found it hard to dislike the affable Chirac, with his gargantuan appetite for Mexican beer and rillettes (pork) sandwiches, and there was little schadenfreude at his conviction. His defenders pointed to his intelligence, energy and adaptability, and to an authentic human warmth and generosity and breadth of culture that 40 years in the political jungle had failed to extinguish,” writes Stephen Jessel in the Guardian.
Former French president Jacques Chirac with Bill Clinton and Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Picture credit: Wikimedia