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Why did the debate between Mitterrand and Chirac in 1988 go down in history?

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As the April 2022 presidential election approaches, what could be more interesting than to dive back into the debates that have marked the history of politics? Direction 1988, during the debate between Mitterrand and Chirac. A remarkable verbal jousting, the two men know each other well…

Presidential election of 1988, the televised debate is gradually beginning to become a tradition of French political life. The French are still certainly marked by the verbal high-flying held in 1974 between François Mitterrand and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing during the debate between the two rounds. The candidate of the independent Republicans had then surprised his interlocutor with a sentence worthy of the greatest playwrights : “You do not have, Monsieur Mitterrand, the monopoly of the heart!” Fourteen years later, François Mitterrand found himself confronted with the exercise for the third time, but the politician still had to face an unprecedented situation: this verbal ping-pong, he had to carry it out with someone he knows well, its Prime Minister, Jacques Chirac.

The president’s right arm facing the president, the staging was rather funny. “Chirac is generally uncomfortable with this exercise, while Mitterrand is much more in his element. But they are two speakers with a real level of preparation“, had explained the specialist in public speaking Adrien Rivierre to our colleagues fromVanity Fairin 2017. But in the ring, the two candidates tried to forget their caps respective, at least the companion of Bernadette Chirac. Indeed, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing did not hesitate to recall the function of his interlocutor: “Prime Minister, since that’s what I called you for two years and you are. Well, as Prime Minister, I noticed that you had very real qualities, but not those of impartiality and justice in the conduct of the state.” Not leaving not impresshis opponent retorted: “Allow me to tell you that this evening, I am not the Prime Minister and you are not the President of the Republic, we are two candidates on an equal footing and who submit to the judgment of the French, the only one that counts. So you will allow me to call you ‘Monsieur Mitterrand’.“Ball in the middle!

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On May 8, 1988, the balance tipped in favor of the outgoing President. François Mitterrand thus won the presidential election by obtaining 54.0% of the vote vs 46.0% for his opponent Jacques Chirac. In the press, the day after this victory, the debate with his Prime Minister who had become a candidate wasstill in the memories : “Mitterrand circumscribed the presidential debate by asking that everyone had failed (especially in the face of unemployment), so there was no reason to deprive oneself of him. […] Opposite Chirac, that is enough for him to embody the no – anything against the anything – twirling”, had writtenThe Expressat the time.

Anastasia Wolfstirn

Curious, Anastasia has a malleable pen. Society, culture, lifestyle, politics, women’s rights… Committed, Anastasia likes to dissect the news from all angles to deliver the substance…

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