French President François Hollande is scrambling to contain the damage from a series of embarrassing remarks he made in a tell-all book.
It’s a longstanding tradition for French politicians to write a book to promote their political views or build up their image.
There is even a saying that one should never think of running for the presidency in France if one has not published books comprising at least 1,000 pages.
For example, Charles de Gaulle, who served as French president for 10 years, had published five books before being elected president in 1959.
And he and former UK prime minister Winston Churchill were contenders for the Nobel Prize for literature.
In fact, six French presidents including Hollande all have published thick books.
His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who faced criticism for his tangled relationship with women, has published three books totaling 1,500 pages.
Sarkozy earlier launched his campaign for French president with an announcement on social media and a link to the first chapter of his new book, Everything For France.
Probably because Hollande has been too busy, the new book was actually written by two journalists based on a series of interviews.
Hollande agreed to give up the right to review or edit the book.
But over the course of 61 sit-down interviews with the two journalists, the French leader may have talked too much and has made numerous unguarded comments on issues ranging from Islam to football, which generated a significant backlash.
In the 672-page book, Hollande describes the justice system as “a cowardly institution” and accused senior judges of simply “keeping their heads down”.
France adopts separation of powers among the three branches of government — the legislative, executive and judicial.
Hollande’s comments are viewed as an interference in the legislature, drawing severe criticism from the country’s top judges and prosecutors.
Hollande also said France has a “problem with Islam” and there is “too much” unwanted immigration.
The book has apparently undermined Hollande’s chances of winning a second term.
The latest poll shows that 70 percent of French people are against him seeking a second term, 20 percentage points higher than the level before the book was published.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has written four books to express his political views since he joined the Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee in the 1980s. These books have helped him build public support.
These days however, local residents tend to spend more time on the internet than reading books.
Interestingly, when retired judge Woo Kwok-hing announced his decision to run for chief executive, Financial Secretary John Tsang, rumored to have told Beijing his intention to join the race, was visiting the headquarters of Facebook in Hong Kong.
Perhaps he is aware of the importance of social media platforms like Facebook to an election campaign.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 28
Translation by Julie Zhu
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