Discussion: Opposing Political Parties

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Discussion: Opposing Political Parties

Discussion: Opposing Political Parties

NOW FOR AN ORIGINAL PAPER ASSIGNMENT: Discussion: Opposing Political Parties

No president after de Gaulle, however, has so dominated French politics. François Mitterrand, a Socialist, served as France’s president for fourteen years (1981–1995), but he was no de Gaulle. Neither was his center-right successor, Jacques Chirac. Not until the election of Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012)—a one-term wonder—did France have a charismatic center-right president with a Napoleon-sized ego to match de Gaulle’s (and a diminutive stature to match Napoleon’s). By that time, France had endured (and the Fifth Republic had survived) three periods of cohabitation in which the president and prime minister were from opposing political parties.

Reduced Role of the National Assembly

If the presidency was clearly the big political winner under the Fifth Republic, the legislature was the loser. France’s parliament is divided into two houses, the Senate and the National Assembly. The French Senate, which has only limited powers, is indirectly elected. The National Assembly, its parliament, is popularly elected from multimember districts in a double ballot (two-stage) election process. As the focal point of legislative power, the National Assembly must approve all proposed laws. However, the word law is rather narrowly defined by the 1958 constitution; in fact, many matters are left to the executive branch, which has the power to issue “decree laws.”

The National Assembly is more interesting for the powers it does not have. For example, the French parliament has no power to introduce financial bills. If it fails to approve the government’s budget by a certain deadline, the executive can enact the budget by fiat (presidential decree).

Rival Parties and Seesaw Elections

Unlike the United States, France has a wide spectrum of political parties. Rival parties exist on both the left and the right, as well as in the center, and both the Far Right and the Far Left often play a significant role in elections.


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