institutions have undergone several changes since the 1789
revolution. The present constitution, adopted in 1958 and revised in
1962, established the Fifth Republic and provided for a powerful
president, originally Charles DE GAULLE, and a bicameral legislature
with less power than it had in the past. The president is elected by
direct popular vote for a 7-year term. He appoints the prime minister
and may dissolve the National Assembly.
consists of a 318-member Senate elected indirectly by an electoral
college, and a politically more important 577-member, directly
elected National Assembly. The five overseas departments of French
Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, and St. Pierre and Miquelon
are represented in the National Assembly, as are New Caledonia,
Mayotte, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and French Polynesia. Senate
members serve 9-year terms, with one-third of the seats falling due
for election every three years. The National Assembly is elected
every five years. The minimum voting age is 18 years.
The four leading
French political parties are the Socialist party; the conservative
Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), founded by Charles de
Gaulle and now led by Jacques CHIRAC; the Union pour la Democratie
Française (UDF); and the French Communist party. Francois
MITTERRAND, leader of the Socialist party, was elected president in
May 1981, giving the Fifth Republic its first socialist government.
When a UDF-RPR coalition won a majority of seats in the parliamentary
election of 1986, Mitterrand had to call on opposition leader Chirac
to form a government, marking another first for the Fifth Republic--a
"cohabitation" arrangement in which the president and the prime
minister were of different parties. The Chirac government modified
many of the socialist reforms introduced earlier by Mitterrand. When
Mitterrand was elected to a second term in 1988, he was able to
replace Chirac with a succession of Socialist premiers. A second
period of cohabitation under Prime Minister Edouard BALLADUR began
after a Socialist defeat at the polls in March 1993. Chirac won 52.6%
of the vote in the presidential election of May 1995, winning a
narrow victory over his Socialist opponent, Lionel Jospin.
of France is organized around 22 administrative regions and 96
metropolitan departments, and the Mitterrand government implemented
(1982) a devolution plan, giving more authority to regions and
departments. Each department covers about 5,000 sq km (1,930 sq mi)
and is administered by an elected departmental council. Within the
departments are about 36,000 communes, corresponding to the parishes
of prerevolutionary France, which are small and are headed by elected
Daniel Noin; Reviewed by Anne Depigny and Agnes Jolivet.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #6, ©1993.