"If every nation gets the leaders it deserves, what have we done to deserve Cécile d'Yvoy?" The words, uttered with an involuntary glance over the shoulder, were spoken by one of her former party colleagues, who - not unsurprisingly - was anxious not to be identified. It is indeed very difficult to find anyone who will go on the record with criticism of the Social-Liberal Parties' parliamentary leader. She has always commanded a healthy respect from friend and foe alike. Now, having solidly established her domination over a fractious and divided parliamentary faction and having placed her favoured (and presumably loyal) Prime Minister in office, she commands something more than respect - something that looks at times remarkably like - well, perhaps 'terror' is too strong a word, but 'awe' is hardly adequate.
Certainly she appears to have destroyed the morale of the opposition. Anyone who has been in the press gallery and watched her rise languidly to the podium, smiling gently at her opponent, finds their thoughts turning to images of rabbits caught in headlights. There seems to be something inevitable, inexorable, about her smooth, unhurried, apparently irresistible progress. One would have to be very brave, or very foolish, to stand in the path of a woman such as this.
A daughter of the francophone south of Knootoss, she was educated on History at the Catholic University of Tioû (CUT), where she is remembered as diligent and industrious rather than brilliant. Friends say that reading is her principal means of relaxation. She is a lover of - and expert in - the politics, poetry and drama of the Knootian Golden Age. She has few other interests outside politics, and though she is an expert shot she is never seen to practice in public. She entered politics relatively late, and when asked why she left a comfortable life, she said that: 'I thought I might be able to use my modest talents to serve my country.'
Few people saw the leadership potential in her early years of political engagement. She was usually described as a formidably efficient party functionary and a good woman in a tight spot. If she harboured strong political views in those days, she kept them very close to her chest. Nevertheless she rose steadily in the party to become a member of the parties' board, then an MP, then the parliamentary factions' first secretary and finally its parliamentary leader, second only to a Prime Minister over whom she is thought to have much influence.
In a recent poll she was voted amongst the '10 sexiest women in Knootoss' and this at the age of nearly 60. This is not simply a matter of the 'aphrodisiac of power'. There is the style, the wit and also a paradoxical combination - strength with a sense of danger. Physically she is slight - almost frail - but she has a formidable constitution fuelled by a formidable will. She likes to and argue political philosophy with clever young women. 'My best students were always women,' she has said. 'I like the way they think - their minds are far more supple and flexible.' She has had particularly close relations with several younger women in the parliamentary staff.
These relationships are, it seems, purely platonic meetings of minds. She has been married three times, each time to a much younger man, and widowed three times, each time due to tragic circumstances. She has never had children, and this has been a cause of regret while at the same time enabling her to devote her considerable talents and energies to advancing her own career.
There are those who say that Cécile d'Yvoy has been as lucky in her political life as she has been unlucky in her private life, but wiser heads say that a good politician makes her own luck. Certainly she came to power just as Knootoss was, at last, emerging from a disastrous war, and she has profited. But she has not ridden the good years in a passive way. She has made choices and exercised preferences, in a way that some have found ruthlessly unacceptable. In the name of personal freedom and self-reliance, she has virtually dismantled what remained of the welfare state. Knootoss is a more prosperous society than it has been for some time - for those in work and able to look out for themselves - but it is also a less compassionate society. We know it and we voted for it. Viljoens' coalition government is in many ways Cécile d'Yvoy's government, and perhaps it is the government that Knootians deserve.
Calculating, phlegmatic, languid