The new French government, just formed by President Emmanuel Macron, was mired in controversy on Monday three weeks before the parliamentary election, with a minister who defected from the right-wing opposition accused of rape.
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Minister Damien Abad, in charge of Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled Persons, who rejects these allegations, is accused of rape by two women in 2010 and 2011.
Mr Abad, himself disabled, was the head of the Republican party’s deputies in the National Assembly until last week before stepping down and entering the government.
Two complaints have already been closed, but the judiciary says it is analyzing a new report.
Asked after a government meeting on Monday morning, the new spokesperson, Olivia Grégoire, recalled President Macron’s “zero tolerance” policy in this regard, saying she was “on the side of those who, after aggression or have the courage to speak out”.
At the same time, she was of the opinion that it is up to the judiciary to establish the “truth” and “justice is the only one that must and can decide” and indicates that “to her knowledge no other procedure is ongoing”.
The case comes a few days after the withdrawal of two candidates in the June parliamentary elections, including one from the presidential party who has been convicted of violence against his ex-campaign.
Allegations of violence and assault against political figures in France have received media attention in recent years. Prominent political figures have been forced to withdraw from public life.
On Monday morning, several political leaders of the left-wing opposition, including Socialist boss Olivier Faure, demanded the resignation of Mr Abad and called for “respect of women’s word”.
New Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday she was not aware of these allegations before reading an article from the online media Mediapart on Saturday, relaying these allegations based on the two women’s testimonies.
She promised to draw “all the consequences” of “new elements” and referral to justice.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Monday, President Macron called on the government to take “new action in substance and form” in the face of new challenges.
“The government you are forming is above all (…) a government to act” and “bring the country together”, the head of state launched in the preamble to this meeting, pointing to “an unprecedented context” with the crisis of the Covid-19, “which we will hardly get out of when it is all over”, the war in Ukraine and “unprecedented challenges” for French society.
One of the first texts that the next National Assembly will have to examine is about the purchasing power of the French, confirms spokesman Olivia Grégoire, at a time when prices are rising and economic growth is stagnating.
This meeting of the Council of Ministers marks the start of Emmanuel Macron’s second five-year term. It comes into force almost a month after the re-election of the head of state on April 24 and less than three weeks before the parliamentary elections on June 12 and 19.
Macron hopes that his Renaissance party and its centrist allies will gain an absolute majority in the new Assembly.
According to a poll published Monday, the presidential majority and an alliance of left-wing parties led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise, radical left) are neck and neck for the far-right RN party, leaving 28%, 27% and 28% respectively. 21% of the voting intentions in the first round.
The fate of the new government will be suspended at the end of the vote, with half of its members, including the prime minister, running as candidates and forced to leave if beaten, according to an instruction from Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
Among the new faces, that of the Minister of Education, the academic of Senegalese father and French mother, historian of minorities, Pap Ndiaye, was at the center of attention.
The new executive’s only real surprise, his appointment, sparked outrage within the far right, who accuse him of wanting to “deconstruct the country”.
Among the comments of Pap Ndiaye’s opponents, in particular, is the idea, expressed in 2017 in the newspaper Le Monde, that there is “structural racism” in France.