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UE: POL 110-HA: Democracy in Troubled Times: Presidential Democracy in France's 5th Republic

Practical Instruction in Civic Discourse

Charles De Gaulle & the Fifth Republic

De Gaulle installs the short-lived Fourth Republic

Charles de Gaulle was a French general and statesman, leader of the Free French during World War Two and the architect of the Fifth Republic. His political ideology, 'Gaullism', has become a major influence in French politics .

De Gaulle was born in Lille on 22 November 1890 and grew up in Paris, where his father was a teacher. De Gaulle chose a military career and served with distinction in World War One.

During the 1930s he wrote books and articles on military subjects, criticising France's reliance on the Maginot Line for defence against Germany and advocating the formation of mechanised armoured columns. His advice went unheeded and, in June 1940, German forces easily overran France. As under-secretary of national defence and war, de Gaulle refused to accept the French government's truce with the Germans and escaped to London, where he announced the formation of a French government in exile. He became leader of the Free French.

After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, de Gaulle was given a hero's welcome in the French capital. As president of the provisional government, he guided France through the writing of the constitution on which the Fourth Republic was based. However, when his desires for a strong presidency were ignored, he resigned. An attempt to transform the political scene with a new party failed, and in 1953 he withdrew into retirement again.

In 1958, a revolt in French-held Algeria, combined with serious instability within France, destroyed the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle returned to lead France once more. The French people approved a new constitution and voted de Gaulle president of the Fifth Republic. Strongly nationalistic, de Gaulle sought to strengthen his country financially and militarily. He sanctioned the development of nuclear weapons, withdrew France from NATO and vetoed the entry of Britain into the Common Market. He also granted independence to Algeria in the face of strong opposition at home and from French settlers in Algeria.

BBC History
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De Gaulle creates the Fifth Republic & decolonizes Algeria

In the November 1958 elections de Gaulle and his supporters (initially organised in the Union pour la Nouvelle République-Union Démocratique du Travail, then the Union des Démocrates pour la Vème République and later still the Union des Démocrates pour la République) won a comfortable majority, in December de Gaulle was elected President with 78% of the vote, he was inaugurated in January 1959.

He oversaw tough economic measures to revitalise the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs). Internationally he rebuffed both the USA and the USSR, pushing for an independent France with its own nuclear weapons. He set about building Franco-German cooperation as the cornerstone of the EEC (now the European Union), giving the first state visit to Germany by a French head of state since the time of Napoleon. Also he took the opportunity to deny the British entry for the first time (January 1963).

De Gaulle believed that while the war in Algeria was militarily winnable it was not defensible internationally, and he became reconciled to the country's independence. This stance created huge anger among the French settlers and their metropolitan supporters, and de Gaulle was forced to suppress two uprisings in Algeria by French settlers and troops, in the second of which (April 1961) France herself faced threatened invasion by rebel paratroops.  He was also targeted by the settler OAS terrorist group. In March 1962 de Gaulle arranged a cease-fire in Algeria and a referendum supported independence, finally accomplished on July 3.

In September 1962 he sought a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by the people. Following a defeat in the National Assembly, he dissolved that body and held new elections, the Gaullists won an increased majority. Although the Algerian issue was settled the prime minister, Michel Debré, still resigned over the final settlement and was replaced with Georges Pompidou.

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As he commissioned the new constitution and was responsible for its overall framework, de Gaulle is sometimes described as the author of the constitution. De Gaulle's political ideas were written into a constitution by Michel Debré who then guided the text through the enactment process. Thus while the constitution reflects de Gaulle's ideas, Michel Debré was the actual author of the text.

The hybrid presidential-parliamentary (or "semi-presidential") system

The Third and Fourth Republics had been true parliamentary systems: "the government reports to Parliament as a slave reports to his master," said PierreMendès France, Prime Minister in 1955 and a major figure of the Fourth Republic. With the Fifth Republic, all that changed. In the view of Charles de Gaulle, the first task was to put an end to the "regime of parties" and restore the authority of the executive, in order, ultimately, to restore the authority of the State, which he considered to be seriously weakened. The head of government was no longer voted into office by Parliament. Whereas under the Fourth Republic the Prime Minister had been "invested" by the National Assembly, he was now "appointed" by the President of the Republic. Admittedly, the government was still accountable to the Assembly, but a motion of censure could now only be passed by an absolute majority of deputies.

The new constitution was designed both to closely regulate the government's accountability to the National Assembly and to put an end to unstable cabinets. The government was given powers to control legislative procedure. This distrust of Parliament was also expressed in the creation of the Constitutional Council, charged with ensuring that laws complied with the Constitution. Last but not least, the new constitution conferred special powers (i.e. not subject to approval by the Prime Minister and the relevant minister) on the President of the Republic, beginning with emergency powers.

The institutions of the Fifth Republic borrow classic elements both from parliamentary and presidential systems. This has led certain constitutional specialists to class the Fifth Republic as a "semi-presidential" system. The parliamentary nature of the system is clearly displayed through the existence of a Government led by a Prime Minister who is accountable for his actions before the Chamber elected by direct universal suffrage. To counterbalance this accountability, the Prime Minister may call upon the President of the Republic to dissolve the National Assembly. On the other hand, the election of the President of the Republic by direct, universal suffrage, his major role in foreign policy and his pre-eminence in the conduct of national policy, outside of periods of cohabitation, have no equivalent in such parliamentary systems as those of the United Kingdom or the Federal Republic of Germany where the role of the Head of State is in fact only a matter of protocol. These elements make the French system closer to the American model.

The constitutional reform of 1962, which introduced the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage, substantially increased his legitimacy. From being a simple "referee" above party politics, he has become the real leader of a governing majority when the governing majority in the National Assembly coincides with that which elected him. He thus has the final say when a decision must be taken jointly with the Prime Minister and he determines the main direction of the policies to be pursued by the Government. In the case of cohabitation, i.e. when the presidential majority and the parliamentary majority do not coincide, the President of the Republic loses such powers which are only available to him with the agreement of the governing majority.

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De Gaulle achieves economic success with a mixed economy

Wth the Algerian conflict behind him, de Gaulle was able to achieve his two main objectives: to reform and develop the French economy, which would then serve to support an independent foreign policy and the strong return of France to the international stage, the so called "policy of grandeur" (politique de grandeur).

In the context of a postwar population boom unseen in France since the 18th century, the government under prime minister Georges Pompidou oversaw a rapid transformation and expansion of the French economy. With a unique combination of western-style capitalism and Soviet-style state economy, the government intervened heavily in the economy, using five-year plans as its main tool. 

Great projects were launched such as the extension of Marseilles harbor (soon becoming number three in Europe), the promotion of the Caravelle plane (ancestor of Airbus), the decision to start building the Concorde plane in Toulouse, the expansion of the French car industry with state-owned Renault at its center, the building of the first motorways between Paris and the province, etc. 

The French economy renewed itself with growth rates not accounted for since the 19th century. In 1964, for the first time in 200 years, France's GNP per capita overtook that of the UK, a position maintained since. This period is still remembered in France with some nostalgia as the peak of the Trente Glorieuses ("Thirty Glorious Years" of economic growth between 1945-1975).

De Gaule stirs unrest in Canada

In July 1967 he visited Canada, then celebrating the centennial of its existence as a nation with a World's Fair known officially as Expo '67. Desiring, in his view, to redeem France for its lack of support to the French settlers facing English conquest 200 years before, he endorsed the claims for an autonomous if not independent Québec, and uttered his famous "Vive le Québec libre" ("Long Live Free Québec") from the balcony of the city hall in Montréal on July 24, in a clear reference to the liberation of France 23 years earlier, of which he was a symbol himself.  Harshly critized by English-speaking Canadians (including those in the government), de Gaulle's stance was welcomed by a significant part of the Québecois population, which was already in the process of getting rid of 200 years of English supremacy with the Quiet Revolution. The tumult forced de Gaulle to cut short his visit to Canada.

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Student protests topple De Gaulle

In May 1968, violent demonstrations by university students shook de Gaulle's government. A general strike followed, paralysing France and jeopardising the Fifth Republic. De Gaulle held elections and the country rallied to him, ending the crisis. In April 1969, De Gaulle resigned the presidency after losing a referendum on a reform proposal. He retired to his estate at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises and died of a heart attack on 9 November 1970.

BBC History
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Politics in Mexico

Constitutional Structure of Mexico

Mexico is a federal republic that comprises 31 states and a Federal District, which is the seat of the federal government. Each of the federal states is administratively divided into several municipalities that form the basis of local government.

The country derives its governmental structure from the constitution adopted in 1917, which clearly delineates the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. According to the constitution, national sovereignty lies with the people of Mexico who are also constitutionally guaranteed a set of personal freedoms and civil liberties

Mexico's Parliament

Mexico's Parliament is divided into the Senate, which is the upper house, and the Chamber of Deputies, which forms the lower house. Members of the Senate are elected for a term of six years while those of the Chamber of Deputies are elected for three. Members of both houses are barred from seeking reelection for the immediate succeeding term. The Senate comprises of two representatives from each of the 31 states and the Federal District while the Chamber of Deputies consists of 400. Of the 400 deputies, three-fifths are elected directly through relative majority while the rest are selected on the basis of proportional representation of the total votes polled by all the political parties.

President of Mexico

The executive wing of power is in the hands of the President of Mexico who is elected for a fixed six-year term with no provision for reelection. The constitution empowers the President to select a cabinet and also to appoint high officials of the state like the attorney general, ambassadors, high-ranking military officers, and the justices of the Supreme Court. The President also enjoys the power to issue decrees that have the effect of law. For most of Mexico's modern history, the President exercised greater control of the governmental system over the other two branches especially during most of the 20 th Century when Mexico was effectively a one-party state. But since the late 20 th century the legislature has begun to exert greater power and influence.

The contenders of the Mexican presidential election are required to satisfy certain prerequisites in order to get the nomination.

  • The candidate must be born in the Mexican territory and living there for a minimum of 20 year period.
  • The age of the candidate must not be less than 35 years.
  • In order to get nomination for the Mexican presidential election, the candidate should not be engaged in armed forces at least for six months before the presidential election.
  • The functionaries of religious institutions are not allowed to compete in Mexican presidential election.

Mexican Party System

Present-day Mexico is a multi-party democracy. Among the several registered political parties that take part in the federal and local elections, the prominent ones are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). Earlier, the PRI ruled Mexico continuously till the late 1990s and it was only in 1997 that it lost control of the Chamber of Deputies and in 2000 its presidential candidate lost out to the PAN-led coalition's candidate. Apart from the above-mentioned three main parties that have vied for power ever since, there are also a number of smaller parties that enjoy considerable electoral support particularly the Mexican Ecological Green Party (PVEM), the Labour Party (PT), and the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD).

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Read more about the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): TEXT

Government under PAN Presidents Fox & Calderon (2000-2012)

PAN President Vicente Fox promised seven percent growth during his campaign, yet delivered just two percent. In late 2008, then-finance minister Agustin Carstens infamously boasted that Mexico would suffer "only a sniffle" from the global economy's crash, but got both a figurative and literal case of swine flu instead. Felipe Calderón, ran as the "jobs president" and presided over a deterioration of the unemployment rate, which has taken even longer than GDP to recover to pre-Lehman levels. Moreover, Mexico's uncannily low unemployment rate -- even in the worst of times -- masks a much larger problem of underemployment and informality, as well as a gradual deterioration of job quality since the dot-com crisis. This goes a long way in explaining rising frustration from the country's youth, as well as rising crime.

It is here where we have to turn to the one area where the PAN's legacy will suffer its biggest blemish: security. Drug-related violence is hardly new in Mexico, but took a turn for the worst after Calderón launched his "war on drugs" barely a month into his term. At best, the war has been a mixed success in weakening or destroying some of the country's main cartels but, at worst, a colossal failure which has led to 60,000 dead and 25,000 disappeared, leaving its scars across the formerly vibrant border towns as well as industrial centers like Monterrey. Whatever the war's successes, many appear to be less due to government direct actions rather than to the changing fortunes of the cartels themselves, mainly as the two largest of them -- the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas -- have muscled their way into the territories once dominated by their rivals. Ultimately, only time will tell if Calderon's strategy will make the country safer but unfortunately for him, it will be his successors who will reap the benefits.

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Nieto elected President of Mexico

The 2012 election of Mr Pena Nieto marks the return of the Industrial Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled the country with an authoritarian hand for 71 years until losing its first election in 2000.

The 46-year-old former Mexico state governor presented a 13-point plan to boost growth, fight poverty and hunger, and cut a crime wave that has included street gunfights, beheadings and kidnappings that have brought fear to many parts of the country. He succeeds Felipe Calderon, who handed him Latin America's second biggest economy but a relentless drug war that has killed more than 60,000 people in the last six years.

"The state has lost ground in important areas," Mr Pena Nieto said, "Lawlessness and violence have robbed various parts of the country of peace and freedom. "My government's first aim will be to bring peace to Mexico."  He paid tribute to Mexico's armed forces early in his speech and then saluted them on the capital's Field of Mars parade ground.

Memories of the PRI's unbroken rule, known for corruption, cronyism and vote-rigging by the time it left office, are still vivid in Mexico.  "It's like the Communist Party of the Soviet Union making a comeback," said Lorenzo Meyer, a left-leaning political scientist and historian at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  "The PRI should be dead. Its time had passed."


PRI resumes leadership

The political party that ruled Mexico for seven straight decades is back, assuring Mexicans there's no chance of a return to what some called "the perfect dictatorship" that was marked by a mixture of populist handouts, rigged votes and occasional bloodshed.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, reclaims the presidency Saturday after 12 years out of power, and President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto calls it a crowning moment of an effort to reform and modernize the party that ruled without interruption from 1929 to 2000.  He promises an agenda of free enterprise, efficiency and accountability. He's pushing for reforms that could bring major new private investment in Mexico's crucial but creaking state-owned oil industry, changes that have been blocked for decades by nationalist suspicion of foreign meddling in the oil business.

PRI leaders acknowledge the party is returning to power in a Mexico radically different from what it was in the party's heyday. The nation has an open, market-oriented economy, a freer, more aggressive press, an opposition that can communicate at the speed of the Internet and a population that knows the PRI can be kicked out of power.

"The skeptics say that the PRI will return to the past, as if such a thing were possible," PRI leader Pedro Joaquin Coldwell told a party gathering earlier this month. "It's not, because this is a different country."  Yet critics already see hints of a yearning for the old days of an imperial presidency in some of the measures the PRI is pushing through Congress.

A bill proposed by Pena Nieto would gather the police and security apparatus under the control of the Interior Department, an office long used by the PRI to co-opt or pressure opponents, rig elections and strong-arm the media.  PRI leaders say the measure would unify a fractured security apparatus and produce a more coordinated strategy in Mexico's fight against drug cartels.

Political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio says a return to the old ways is unlikely, noting there are now independent electoral authorities, judges and rights groups to help keep authorities in line. "I don't think they'll try to restore the old regime, like we saw in the 1970s," he said.  But Alejandro Sanchez, the assistant leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, warns of an attempt "to return to the authoritarian regime of the 1970s, when torture, contempt for opponents and impunity were the norm."

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Big Ideas, Essential Questions, and Higher Order Thinking

Class Debate

  • Has France found “the solution” to parliamentary democracy?
  • Is Russia still a democracy?
  • Is Mexico on the way to solving its political corruption, drugs, and growth problems?

Online Texts

Overview - Mixed Presidential/Parliamentary Democracies

France’s Fifth Republic & De Gaulle
French Constitutions, Parties, Society, ex-empire & Global Role
Post-Soviet Russia: from Yeltsin to Putin 
Mexico between the PRI, growth, drugs, & corruption

-- Marco Rimanelli, Ph.D. Saint Leo University