French Fifth Republic

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The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, which was introduced on October 5, 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the ashes of the French Fourth Republic, replacing a weak and factional parliamentary government with a stronger, more centralized semi-presidential system.

See Government of France for a discussion of the current workings of the French government and Politics of France for a discussion of current politics.

Foundation by Charles de Gaulle

The impetus behind the creation of the Fifth Republic was the Algerian Crisis. Although France had since parted with many of its colonies, such as many of those in West Africa and Southeast Asia, it still retained Algeria, which had a large French population which opposed decolonization. Algeria eventually became independent on July 5, 1962.

Charles de Gaulle used the crisis as an opportunity to create a new French government with a stronger office of president, which before was largely that of a figurehead. French presidents, as in preceding constitutions, were given a long term (7 years, now reduced to 5 years) and currently still have more internal power than most of their European counterparts in parliamentary democracies. On September 28, 1958, a referendum took place and 79.2% of those who voted supported the new constitution.

The president was initially elected by an electoral college, but in 1962 de Gaulle proposed that the president should be directly elected by the citizens in a referendum. Although the method and intents of de Gaulle in that referendum were highly contested by most political groups except for the Gaullists, the change was approved by the French electorate. Given the runoff voting system used in the presidential election, the president of the Republic has a high degree of legitimacy, since he has to obtain a majority at either the first or second round of elections.

After De Gaulle

De Gaulle was succeeded by Georges Pompidou (19691974), Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (19741981), François Mitterrand (19811995), and Jacques Chirac (since 1995).

Since 1970, there have been minor changes to the Constitution: removal of sections discussing the now defunct "French community", setting the length of the presidential term to 5 years like that of Parliament, establishing workable rules for the criminal responsibility of ministers for acts within their functions, and enabling some powers to be transferred to the European Union.

The Fifth Republic, with a president with significant official functions and a great political clout, is sometimes criticized as being "monarchic". François Mitterrand famously criticized De Gaulle's way of governing as being a "permanent coup d'état". Many, especially on the Left such as Arnaud Montebourg or Les Verts argue that a new constitution should be drafted and a Sixth republic should be formed. However, there is little sign that such a change may happen any time soon.

See also

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