Former president Jacques Chirac, who died on Thursday at the age of 86, was one of the great beasts of the French right whose longevity, between brilliant successes and bitter failures, demonstrated an exceptional ability to rebound.
The one who was 12 years president, twice prime minister, three times mayor of Paris, creator and party leader, minister to repetition, died "in the midst of his family peacefully," told his son-in-law Frederic Salat-Baroux, husband of Claude Chirac.
Weakened by various health problems, Mr. Chirac had not appeared in public for five years. These health problems have finally got the better of this beating tall, warm, bursting with energy, always in motion - ubiquitous in the French political landscape since the early 60s.
Far from ideologies, this great pragmatist, creator in 1976 of the RPR, dreamed heir to Gaullism but claims mostly Georges Pompidou. He has, between liberalism and faith in public power, between "French-style Laborism" and conservatism punctuated by Bonapartist audacity, embodying a synthesis of French rights.
His Elyos mandates will remain marked by his "no" to the second Iraq war, the end of the military conscription, the recognition of the responsibility of the French state in the Nazi crimes, the passage to the quinquennium, the cry of alarm ("our house burns") in the face of environmental degradation, a first major victory over the absurd road mortality.
But also a fierce controversy over its resumption of nuclear tests, a calamitous dissolution, a resounding "no" to the European constitutional referendum of 2005, accusations of immobilism (Nicolas Sarkozy going up to speak of "idle king"), deficits dug, undefeated unemployment.
He has experienced the hell of unpopularity and media mockery ("superhumor") but has gone back to the zenith of popular sympathy since leaving the Elysee Palace in 2007.
- The Elysee, dreams of a lifetime -
As mayor of Paris for 18 years (including two grand slams of 20 districts), he leaves two large parks that have helped to restructure the capital. On his side, accusations of patronage and corruption with decades of judicial extensions. He will remain as the first president convicted by the criminal justice system.
Jacques Chirac had managed to conquer the Elysée - dream of a life for this only son - after two defeats (1981 and 1988). At the second, François Mitterrand, septuagenarian and sick, beats him by 8.04 points.
It is said to have drained. Third attempt in 1995. Enarque anchored in rugged Corrèze soil - as the socialist François Hollande came to challenge him in 1981 - he was distanced for months by his "thirty-year-old friend", the very posed Edouard Balladur Matignon since 1993 .
Some, like his "political son" Sarkozy, dream of seeing "the big one" throw in the towel. Insubmersible, driven by his theme of "social fracture", Chirac forces fate.
He won the fight, eliminating his RPR rival in the first round, defeating the Socialist Lionel Jospin in the second. One of the great illustrations of the will in politics.
He will not have the strength to forgive the balladuriens. The wound will remain gaping to the right, at its greatest expense.
Two years later, Chirac shatters on a pitiful dissolution of the Assembly to which he was pushed by his vibrating secretary general of the Elysée Dominique de Villepin, to save the Prime Minister with his heart Alain Juppé, reduced to the incapacity.
He seems to agree with the old adversary Mitterrand, who had predicted a "picturesque" septennat ...
Major humiliation, accompanied by five years of bellicose cohabitation with Jospin that he was forced to name Matignon.
In 2002, a new twist: the one his opponent and Prime Minister described as "aged, worn, tired", becomes, facing FN Jean-Marie Le Pen, the best elected president of the Fifth Republic. A record of 82.21% of the vote, not nearly beaten.
- Battler -
His two stays at Matignon had already been fights: Chirac hands over to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, whom he helped to elect against the Gaullist Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a resounding resignation in 1976. He fights with Mitterrand 1986 to 1988.
In 2007, weakened by a stroke that struck him two years earlier, he must see Nicolas Sarkozy triumph for which he is far from showing the unwavering fervor of his wife Bernadette.
Until the end of his retirement silence in the fall of 2014 to proclaim his support to Alain Juppé for 2017, taclant de facto whoever succeeded him at the Elysee. He had already launched in June 2011 that he would vote Hollande in the presidential election. His family had pleaded "Corrèze humor" where many heard a cry of the heart.
Decreased by his stroke, he will not be able to attend his trial - an unprecedented procedure for a former tenant of the Elysée - in an endless affair of fictitious jobs.
"Loss of memory", "absences", deafness. Jacques Chirac will appear more and more rarely in public, the jerky step, clinging to the shoulder of companions.
Far from the image of the indefatigable seducer, handsome as an actor, credited with many female conquests ("girls, it was galloping", had admitted his wife).
Far from the voracious engulfing the calf's heads with a gribiche sauce, the Corona beers, capable of record-breaking marathons at the agricultural show, at home in the ass of the cows.
Far from the crowd lover, who boasted that he had squeezed so many hands that he needed buckets of ice to relieve his burning palms.
For his enemies, Jacques Chirac was versatile, capable of all the blows of Jarnac, admirable in the conquest of power, deplorable in his exercise.
For his friends, he was a man "attentive to others", full of charm, a citizen of the world familiar with the great ones of the earth. A father adoring his two daughters, the eldest, Laurence, was struck by a terrible anorexia and the second Claude, expert in communication, accompanied him, advised and made grandfather of a small Martin.
A personality in any case much more complex than the rustic image he displayed: connoisseur of Asia, lover of Japan (expert es sumo), Russian-speaking, craftsman of a dialogue of cultures embodied by "his" musée du quai Branly, box of the "primitive arts" of which he was keen.
He had entitled the first volume of his memoirs: "Every step must be a goal".
© 2019 AFP