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Political Parties

National Assembly June
% of voteseatsseatsseats
République en Marche!---350
le Républicaine UMP 46.37%313185 137
PS Parti Socialiste42.25%18625844
PCF Parti Communiste / Left Front2.28%151017
FN Front National- 2 8
other1.24% 6...21
Union des démocrates et indépendants--29...
miscellaneous left2.47%1521...
Écologiste LV Greens 0.45%417...
miscellaneous right1.17%914...
PRG Left Radical Party 1.65%711...
NC Presidential Majority2.12%22......
New Centre ......11...
Radical Party ......6...
Regionalists ......2...
Centrist Alliance ......2...
Centre for France ......2...
Poujadist--- -

The institutions of the Fifth Republic abandoned proportional representation, accused of having encouraged a "regime of parties", for majority voting, intended to form stable parliamentary majorities. Two-round voting, as practised under the Third Republic, returned for general and presidential elections. With successive elections of this sort and the extensive use of referenda during the early years of the Fifth Republic, the political landscape once again became polarised.

It crystallised in 1962. In that year, two alliances emerged: one around the Gaullist party to support the government; and the other a temporary grouping of the "No cartel" of all de Gaulle's opponents. The older political forces were now dying. "Between the Communists and us [the Gaullists], there is nothing", said André Malraux, General de Gaulle's Minister of Culture.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a "non-Communist left" and a "non-Gaullist right" emerged around François Mitterrand and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing respectively. Each of these men managed to create an identity and embody neglected parts of the political landscape. Mitterrand asserted himself as de Gaulle's main opponent by forcing him to a run-off in the 1965 presidential election, and created the Socialist Party (PS) in 1971. Giscard d'Estaing founded the Union for French Democracy (UDF) in 1978 to assemble Liberals, Christian Democrats and a section of the Radicals. In this way the centre joined the right. Meanwhile, Jacques Chirac made himself leader of the neo-Gaullists and founded the Rally for the Republic (RPR). By the 1978 general election, the political landscape looked like a classical French garden, with four political forces of equal size, paired off: PC (Communists) and PS on one side, UDF and RPR on the other.

But France in the late 1970s was no longer what it had been in the early 1960s. The Gaullists and Communists were losing momentum. The Gaullists lost the Élysée in 1974, when Valéry Giscard d'Estaing succeeded Georges Pompidou after the latter's sudden death. The "Union of the Left" formed in 1972 was of greater advantage to the PS than the PC: François Mitterrand was elected President of the Republic in 1981, after the left had spent 23 years in opposition.

In the early 1980s, the forces that had caused French political system to realign were suddenly reversed and made it collapse. Proportional representation was used again in France for European elections beginning in 1979. In the 1980s, fully or partly proportional voting was used for municipal and regional elections, and, on one occasion only, the 1986 general election. Economic, social and political crisis was undermining the French political system. The "old" parties were unable to express the hopes and fears of an increasing section of the electorate. The far right suddenly appeared on the scene in 1983 and quickly established itself among the working class of traditionally industrial regions. The rural-urban rift was expressed in the antagonism between hunters and ecologists, particularly in European elections.

And the question of Europe itself undermined the major parties and in the early 1990s provoked the appearance of new political forces concerned with national sovereignty, on the left with Jean-Pierre Chevènement (who split from the Socialist party) and on the right with Charles Pasqua (who left the RPR) and Philippe de Villiers (originally UDF).

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the major parties continued to decline or indeed explode, like the UDF in 1998, when the Liberals left to form Liberal Democracy (DL). The extremes were doing no better: the National Front lost half its executive members in 1999, when Bruno Mégret split away to create the National Republican Movement (MNR). Although the far left gained voters from the disarray of the Communist Party, rivalry between its various groups appeared to be insurmountable.

Green parties became a political force in France during the early 1990s, but by 1995 their popularity had declined, as was evident from their electoral setbacks. Severe differences had cropped up in the two green parties, further weakening their position. Such developments cast doubts on the credibility of green politics. Absence of an extra-parliamentary movement as a base, and adoption of green ideas by other political parties, dampened hopes of the green parties of regaining their lost glory. The French green movement needed to unite and reconsider their strategies to recover the lost ground.

By the early 2000s, the RPR's leadership of the right was guaranteed, since the "non-Gaullist right", which for twenty years had been a single party, could no longer work with it in a coalition to provide a counterweight. The PS had a similar position on the left, since the PC was caught up in a spiral of decline. But this PSRPR duopoly was an optical illusion. The combined score of the top two candidates in the first round of the presidential election continued to fall: 58.4% in 1981, 51.0% in 1988, and 44.1% in 1995. The 2002 election was marked by an extreme fragmentation of the French political landscape. Sixteen candidates stood for election, of whom five for the "plural left" and four for the government right. The "small" parties were also divided: there were three far left candidates, two far right and two ecologists. For the first time ever, none of the candidates received more than 20% of the vote. But above all it was their final order that "thunderstruck" French politics: the Socialist Lionel Jospin came only third, behind Jacques Chirac and the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Lionel Jospin's failure in the first round indirectly guaranteed Jacques Chirac's election in the second.

The 2002 presidential election marked the end of a political cycle. After the election, Jacques Chirac united the right by creating a new party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), although François Bayrou (UDF) refused to join. The June 2002 general election began to repolarise French politics: the UMP won an absolute parliamentary majority. The PS gained from the electors' remorse and desire not to waste a vote and asserted itself as the only force around which the left could organise. The National Front, on the other hand, had no deputies at all. François Bayrou's UDF had fewer than thirty, but during the 2002-2007 parliamentary term it attempted to occupy the centre of the political chessboard so as to take advantage of the rightward movement of the UMP, headed by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2004, and the inadequacies of the PS, which was finding it hard to learn the lessons of its failure in 2002.

Bayrou's aim was to position the UDF halfway between left and right with an eye on the 2007 presidential election. The first round of that election revealed tactical voting by the electorate, squeezing all the smaller parties and favouring the major candidates. Nicolas Sarkozy obtained 31.2% and Ségolène Royal 25.9%, making a total of 57.1%. In the second round Nicolas Sarkozy beat Ségolène Royal with more than 53%. Once elected he "opened up" the government by recruiting centrists and Socialists. François Bayrou was isolated and the PS slipped further into crisis. The 2007 general election, like that of 2002, unsurprisingly confirmed the verdict of the presidential election and gave the UMP an absolute parliamentary majority.

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Page last modified: 30-09-2021 18:41:47 ZULU