Saturday, 18 May 2013

Floss and Cahuzac: why do people vote for corrupt politicians?

Gaston Flosse
I read this morning that Gaston Flosse has been elected as president of French Polynesia for the umpteenth time. Who is Gaston Flosse? He is a right-of-centre politician with a long track record of convictions for a slew of offences, including complicity to run an illegal gambling organisation, illegal conflict of business and political interests, embezzlement, obstruction of a magistrate in the execution of his duties, and destruction of material evidence in a criminal investigation. You name it, he has done it. Oh, and he is also suspected of being involved in the murder of a journalist who, it is alleged, had evidence linking him to Clearstream, a not-so-clear bank with a reputation for money-laundering.

Now you may be surprised that voters would place their confidence in such a man, but he is far from being the only example of a corrupt politician being elected or re-elected in France. Here are some more examples....

Patrick Balkany.
Currently a UMP deputy and mayor in the Paris region, his criminal record includes fictitious salaries for non-existent municipal employees and slanderous allegations of corruption. He has physically threatened polical opponents, sexually harrassed female staff and other politicians, been accused of rape and sexual aggression, and threatened one of his lovers with a handgun (she said) in order to force her to commit a fellation upon him.

Harlem Désir.
18 months suspended and a fine of 30,000 francs for misuse of corporate assets and paying himself a salary of 10,500 francs for a fictitious job. He is the current chairman of the French Socialist Party and a European MP.

Jean-François Mancel.
Found guilty in 2000 of illegal conflict of interests and given an 18-month suspended sentence and a fine of 30,000 euros, he is currently a member of parliament.

Jacques Mellick.
No longer active in politics, he was elected as mayor for the town of Béthune after being found guilty of perjury and false witness statement in an affair involving match-fixing in football.

Pierre Bédier.
Re-elected as a General Counselor for the Yvelines region after being convicted of passive corruption and misuse of company assets. He received a sentence of 18 months suspended and a fine of 50,000 euros.

Henri Emmanuelli.
A former Socialist Party State Secretary, he is currently a General Council president. Convicted in 1997 for influence peddling, he was handed down an 18-month suspended sentence and a two-year suspension of his civic rights.

Alain Juppé.
Mayor of Bordeaux since 2006. Illegal campaign financing and fictitious jobs which led him to be convicted in 2004 of conflict of interest, embezzlement and breach of trust. 18 months suspended and ten years of ineligibility to stand for an electoral mandate. Reduced on appeal to 14 months suspended and one year of ineligibility.

These are but a few of the many corrupt politicians who get re-elected, so it's not surprising that yet another man with a shady background is trying to do the same thing today. He is Jérôme Cahuzac, a former budget minister in charge of tax collection who was recently charged with having a money laundering bank account in Switzerland and subsequently chucked out of office for lying about it in parliament.

It's a curious phenomenon that I just don't understand, and I'm not the only one, seeing as ne'er a month goes by without some journalist or psychologist or someone musing in the press about the reasons for it. Some say it's because giving these people a second chance makes them feel better about their own skeletons in their own cupboards, and others put it down to 'supporting the underdog', which French people like to say they do. As for me, my jury's still out on the question.

So, would you vote for a politician who has been found guilty of corruption? Does this happen in your own country to any great degree?


  1. Astounding isn't it? Obviously there are crooked politicians everywhere but I tend to think they don't run for office again. Juppé was astounding but Cahuzac doesn't even seem to have left a decent cooling-off period!

    Could it be a less aggressive press? The lack of, dare I say it, a tabloid press? Maybe even the fact that the French don't have as much of a press culture?

    1. HI Streaky, how goes it, and yes, it is astounding. Good choice of adjective that. You raise a good point about the press here, which as you know is much more submissive to politicians' whims than is the case for the Anglophone press and others. There's another problem there too, which is that France has almost no tradition of investigative journalism, and snooping into the affairs of politicians is still regarded as being slightly distasteful. Add to that the draconian laws in place which oblige the press to reveal sources far too easily and there you have it - the French Fourth Estate is not doing its job properly.

  2. The same happens in India with many corrupt politicians coming back to power over and over again. I would like to think that things are changing a bit with the anti-corruption movement that's been waxing and waning here over the past couple of years. However, at least within the context of India, a lot of them get back to power by spending a portion of their ill-gotten money on election promises to the poor such as cash, television sets, and computers. It is easy to "win" their votes and the saddest bit is that as soon as people get into the well-to-do bracket, they think that they are beyond the purview of effects of policy making and hence generally grow apathetic towards politics, governance, and elections! As for the press, it has just come down to sensationalism coupled with ridiculously short memory. So everyone knows that what happens today will not spillover to tomorrow.

    1. Hello Ms.V, and thanks for stopping by and describing what's happening in India. What strikes me about it is that be it India or France, Europe or Asian or South America etc it's always the same old thing, albeit to a greater or lesser extent. Buying off apathetic voters, a sensationalist press which craves readers for advertising revenue, and endless political scandals. And that isn't going to change anytime soon unfortunately....