France has been stunned, divided – and to an extent relieved – by the apparent disintegration of the prosecution's case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Just under half of those questioned in a poll published yesterday said that the former presidential front-runner should return to French politics, if cleared. But almost as many – 45 per cent – said that his political career was over.
The bombshell of Mr Strauss-Kahn's possible acquittal has created as much confusion in the French presidential campaign as the bombshell of his very public arrest in May.
Most media commentators dismissed the possibility that he might now declare himself a candidate in the Socialist primary campaign which opened last week. Even if the New York case collapsed, and even if the 15 July deadline for joining the race were extended, Mr Strauss-Kahn would need time to "reconstruct himself emotionally", they said.
Some commentators raised the possibility that the former IMF chief might eventually emerge as a kind of running-mate for the Socialist party leader, Martine Aubry. Declaring Mr Strauss-Kahn to be "prime minister-in-waiting" might help her to win the primary campaign in October, and the presidential election proper next April and May.
Supporters of President Nicolas Sarkozy dismissed talk of Mr Strauss-Kahn's political rehabilitation. Even if the charges of attempted rape were to collapse, they said, Mr Strauss-Kahn's reputation was in tatters. "Ordinary French people have realised that he is a playboy," one minister said. "They don't want another Berlusconi."
In truth, France appears to be struggling with conflicting emotions as it tries to digest the latest extraordinary turn of events. Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest in May was seen as a kind of national humiliation. The apparent disintegration of the evidence against him has generated a sense of relief, and also of Schadenfreude that it is now the turn of the American judicial system to be humiliated.
At the same time, the doubts raised about Mr Strauss-Kahn's accuser have revived the conspiracy theories which flourished in France just after his arrest. One of his closest political friends, Pierre Moscovici, a usually a cautious man, was asked yesterday whether he thought that Mr Strauss-Kahn had been forced out of his IMF job too quickly. "That's not the question," he said. "The question is: 'Was there a motive for all this?'"