Case Study: François Hollande

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Case Study: François Hollande

Case Study: François Hollande


When center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in May 2007, French voters gave the center-right a solid majority in the National Assembly, but the Socialists were not shut out: in fact, they made a net gain of forty-six seats while the UMP actually lost forty-four seats. In the 2008 local and regional elections, the UMP lost numerous city mayoral races and eight departmental presidencies.

In the 2012 national elections, Sarkozy and the center-right parties suffered a stinging defeat. François Hollande was elected president in a runoff, and his Socialist Party won 314 parliamentary seats, 25 seats more than the 289 needed to command an absolute majority. Eighty percent of the people voted, a big turnout that significantly changed the composition of the new parliament: “younger, more feminine, and more ethnically diverse than the old one, which was dominated by grey hair and suits.”* Many were first-timers, too—about 40%.

Constitution under Pressure: Testing the Balance

The Fifth Republic has brought stable democracy to France for more than six decades now. De Gaulle’s influence has extended well beyond his presidency, and his broad interpretation of presidential powers prevails to this day. De Gaulle’s preference for a strong national economy that mixes a large role for the state (a French tradition) with a healthy respect for free-market principles remains firmly fixed as a part of his legacy. Nonetheless, without de Gaulle’s firm hand on the tiller, “long-range programs gave place to expediency, and party alignments obeyed the logic of electoral tactics rather than policy making.”*

From the start of the Fifth Republic, France faced the danger of a divided executive: when the president and prime minister represented two different parties, embraced different ideologies, and advanced different policies. Although a deadlocked government remains a hazard in France’s dual-executive system, France has survived three periods of cohabitation, most recently from 1997 to 2002.

Justice à la Française

The French judicial system is divided into two basic types of courts—ordinary courts and administrative courts—with different jurisdictions. Despite this rather routine distinction, France’s legal system has some interesting twists. For example, the High Council of the Judiciary, chaired by the president, decides on judicial promotions and discipline, whereas the High Court of Justice has the power to try the president for treason and members of the government for crimes related to abuses in office.

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