IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on sex assault charges sent shockwaves through French politics on Monday, shaking up next year's presidential race and inspiring wild claims of dirty tricks.
As Paris faced its biggest ever political sex crime scandal, photographs of the opposition's top presidential candidate being led in handcuffs by New York police shocked politicians and raised fears for France's image.
“As well as the alleged victim, the chambermaid, there is another sure victim: France,” said Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, environment minister in Sarkozy's centre-right government.
“We are thinking also of France's image,” said Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the ruling right-wing UMP party, on Europe 1 radio. “To think of that picture running on a loop the world over is clearly quite something.”
Aubry's deputy Harlem Desir acknowledged that Strauss-Kahn was out but insisted “the Socialist Party is not decapitated, nor weakened.”
Among the other potential Socialist challengers to run against Sarkozy are Aubry herself and former party leader Francois Hollande.
“There will be another candidate who will represent the party in the presidential election,” Desir told a news conference.