Discussion: A Hybrid System

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Discussion: A Hybrid System

Discussion: A Hybrid System

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The Fifth Republic: A Hybrid System

The Fifth Republic was meant to overcome what its founder, Charles de Gaulle, understood to be the great nemesis of French politics: impotent executives dominated by fractious legislatures (see Figure 7.2). As de Gaulle was fond of pointing out, France’s first three experiments in republican government all ended in dictatorship.

Under the Fourth Republic (1946–1958), governments had lasted an average of six months. A profusion of political parties, some of fleeting duration, turned France’s parliamentary system into a travesty. Worse, parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum—Gaullists on the right and Communists on the left—both sought to undermine the Fourth Republic’s constitution and force the resignation of weak coalition governments.

The Fifth Republic’s constitution was short and simple. Its provisions were guided by de Gaulle, who, in a famous address twelve years earlier, declared:

The unity, cohesion, and internal discipline of the Government of France must be sacred objects or else the country’s leadership will rapidly become impotent and invalid…. The executive power should, therefore, be embodied in a Chief of State, placed above the parties … to serve as an arbiter, placed above the political circumstances of the day, and to carry out this function ordinarily in the Cabinet, or, in moments of great confusion, by asking the nation to deliver its sovereign decision through elections. It is his role, should the nation ever be in danger, to assume the duty of guaranteeing national independence and the treaties agreed to by France.*

In sum, the centerpiece of the constitutional system, de Gaulle insisted, would be a strong executive branch to counterbalance the perennially divided parliament. The centerpiece of the executive, however, would be the chief of state (president) rather than the

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