After weeks of caution and dullness the French Socialist presidential primary campaign has turned compellingly nasty in its final days.
Martine Aubry, the leader of the Socialist Party, appeared to use a rude French word – empapaouter (verb transitive, to bugger) – in the final television debate before Sunday's decisive vote. The clip of her remarks has already gone viral.
The party leader and mayor of Lille was attempting to convince a prime-time television audience that François Hollande, her rival for the Socialist presidential nomination, was a dangerously "soft" leftist with vague and evasive political positions.
"The French have the impression that politicians of that kind want to bugger them," Ms Aubry, 60, said. (Linguistic note: empapaouter can also mean "cheat" or "screw". In contemporary usage, it is mostly used to mean "bugger".)
On Europe 1 radio yesterday, Mr Hollande was asked, by a giggling interviewer, if he felt that his long-time colleague, party leader and rival had, in fact, tried to empapaouter him. "Didn't feel a thing," Mr Hollande retorted.
Ms Aubry's aggressive tactics in the final debate, and in a series of radio interviews yesterday, were taken as a sign of desperation in her camp. But they also reflect years of ill-feeling between two grandees from the same moderate wing of the Socialists. Until the interjection of her rude word, near the end of the debate, she had made little impact. At the end, she turned away rather than shake Mr Hollande's hand.
Mr Hollande, 57, a former party leader, topped the poll in the six-candidate first round last Sunday with 39.2 per cent of the vote. He faces off this weekend against the runner-up, Ms Aubry, who scored 30.4 per cent.
Three of the eliminated candidates, including Ségolène Royal, the defeated presidential candidate in 2007, have endorsed Mr Hollande. Ms Royal is Mr Hollande's estranged former partner and the mother of his four children.
Both surviving candidates have refused to align themselves with the harder left, protectionist, anti-globalisation message of the third-placed contender, Arnaud Montebourg, who said yesterday he would not recommend his voters to support either of them.
Everything points to a reasonably comfortable victory for the moderate, quick-witted, humorous but uninspiring Mr Hollande in the second round on Sunday.Reuse content