End Of The Starter Of An Era…
He had been in charge of varied Ministries from 1967 to 1974, before serving as the Prime Minister twice (1974-76 and 1986-88). He was elected President of his country in 1995, and had held the position for 12 long years. Former French President Jacques Chirac (November 29, 1932 – September 26, 2019) passed away, recently. He was popularly known as the most colourful politician in Post-WWII France!
Chirac started his political career in 1967 when he entered the National Assembly after winning election from Corrèze Département, his Home Constituency. It is heard that his mentor (and another former President) Georges Pompidou advised Chirac not to contest polls from Corrèze, as it was a stronghold of the Left. However, the protege ignored the advice and registered a victory. Because of his stubborn character, Pompidou used to call him ‘Le Bulldozer’ (The Bulldozer)! In his condolence message, President Emmanuel Macron said: “We, French, have lost a Statesman whom we loved as much as he loved us. Whether we share, or not, his ideas or what he fought for, we all recognise ourselves in this man who resembled us, and brought us together. As a leader who was able to represent the nation in its diversity and complexity… President Chirac embodied a certain idea of France.” Indeed, Chirac had led the nation during a turbulent period. From three golden decades of development to recession and mass unemployment, from globalisation to free European market, he had to face many a hurdle… however, he overcame them all!
Chirac’s life was a piece of History. There is a photograph of Charles De Gaulle in a bronze frame on President Macron’s table. He received the photo from Chirac as a gift after becoming the president, and the former President had got it from Pompidou… an image with Republican Values! Perhaps, Chirac had to change his ideology time and again, due to this legacy. Rightist Chirac became a ‘Socialist’ during his student life because of his friend Michel Rocard. His signature was found, along with renowned Communist leader Frédéric Joliot-Curie’s, on a petition against the usage of the Atomic Bomb. Even, Chirac used to sell Communist Party mouthpieces in front of the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He was less interested in theory, and more in its application. For him, responsibility was more important than ideology. De Gaulle liked the alumnus of the École nationale d’administration (The National Administration School). Chirac was also influenced by de Gaulle’s ‘Nationalist Politics’. Later, the ‘State Control’ frustrated him, and Chirac decided to follow the path of ‘Free Market’!
Chirac was the State Secretary of the Ministry of Social Security during the May 1968 Students Uprising in France. Later, the workers joined the movement that paralysed the entire nation. Chirac, acting as a representative of the Government, was against this movement. However, he had no other option, but to accept the workers’ demands!
When acute unemployment rocked France in 1986, the people lost faith in then President François Mitterrand and his Socialist Party. As the Ultra-Right party managed to increase their percentage of votes in the next Parliamentary Polls, Chirac’s newly-formed centrist Right-wing party took the advantage and formed the (RPR/UDF Right-wing coalition) Government. This unprecedented power-sharing arrangement, known as ‘Cohabitation’, gave Chirac the lead in domestic affairs. With this, the Leftist politics, in a way, became irrelevant in France!
Ahead of the Presidential Election in 1988, Chirac organised a ‘Madonna Concert’ to win the support of the younger generation. He enjoyed a special relation with the media and the stardom. French rock star Johnny Hallyday, too, released his famous song ‘We all have in us something from Jacques Chirac‘ ahead of the election. As the media advised him to change strategy, Chirac made pre-poll alliance with the Ultra-Rights, and also formed Public Opinion against immigrants! The strategy worked, as Ultra-Right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen urged the French people not to cast votes in favour of incumbent President Mitterrand! Then, Chirac and Mitterrand took part in a historic debate on television. During the most famous moment of the debate, Chirac told Mitterrand: “Allow me to say that this evening, I am not the Prime minister, and you are not the President of the Republic. We are two candidates… equals… and that submit themselves to the judgment of the French… the only one that counts. You will, therefore, permit me to call you Monsieur Mitterrand!” Mitterrand famously responded, saying: “But you are perfectly correct, Monsieur le Premier Ministre!” Surprisingly, Mitterrand defeated Chirac in the Presidential Election…
Chirac (L) with Francois Mitterrand (R)
In the early 1990s, recession hit the French Society hard… President Mitterrand’s health condition also deteriorated. Socialism, as well as its bearer, were in trouble! Taking advantage of the situation, Chirac bounced back strongly in 1995. His campaigning on a platform of healing the ‘Social Rift’ paid dividends, helping him become the President!
Soon after becoming the President, Chirac, seemingly, indulged in a peccadillo! At that time, the Rightists were in power. However, the media reported that the Government lost its popularity. The newly-elected President wanted to verify the ‘fact’ through elections. He used his ‘Special Power’ to dismiss the Government. Then, the Leftists won the election and came to power. Chirac had no other option, but to work with the Leftist Government!
During his consecutive two terms as President, Chirac acted as a ‘Rightist’ Politician, as he reformed the Labour Law, introduced Privatisation, and reduced budget for the social security sector. Also, France ended ‘once and for all’ its Nuclear Testing during his tenure and intended to accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He was the first foreign leader to visit New York after the 9/11 terror attacks, and declare a war against terrorism! He was also known for his stand against the US-led assault on Iraq in 2003. Chirac was popularly known as a close friend of Africa. He, himself, admitted that he used to send money to Nelson Mandela’s Party, secretly, in the 1970s.
The World, it maybe said, has lost another seasoned Statesman…
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