France Cohabitation

France cohabitation


  • After two rounds of polling in France will elect a new National Assembly.

    • For the first time in 22 years, there is a real possibility that the President and the Prime Minister, leader of the National Assembly, will not be from the same party.

    • This phenomenon is called cohabitation, and has only occurred thrice ever since France transitioned into the Fifth Republic.

France Cohabitation
Pic Credit: The Conversation

The Fifth Republic

  • France is a semi-presidential, representative parliamentary democracy, with clearly defined roles for the President and the Prime Minister.
  • The current political regime, called the Fifth Republic, first came into effect in 1958, replacing the former parliamentary republic system with what political scientist Jean V Poulard calls a “double-headed executive” (“The French Double Executive and the Experience of Cohabitation”, 1990).
  • The Fourth Republic, in place from 1946 to 1958, was a parliamentary system with power effectively concentrated in the lower house of the Parliament.
  • In the absence of an absolute majority, a series of coalition cabinets replaced one another around every six months — in 12 years, France saw 16 Prime Ministers come and go, and a total of 24 cabinets.
  • The new constitution of 1958, which introduced the Fifth Republic, restored executive power.
  • Since 1962, the French President has been directly elected by popular vote, while the Prime Minister is the leader of the largest party/coalition in the National Assembly.

President vs Prime Minister

  • The President, elected for a term of five years, serves as the head of the state and Commander of the Armed Forces. She enjoys regulatory power, exercising control of all decisions on matters of foreign policy and defence.
  • Until 2000, the President enjoyed seven-year terms, which was then reduced to five-year terms.
  • In contrast, the parliament, headed by the Prime Minister, is responsible for all domestic policy decisions. Article 21 of the French constitution allows the PM the power to “direct the actions of the government.”
  • The cabinet is appointed by the President under the PM’s recommendation.
  • The Prime Minister himself cannot be dismissed by the President, but his resignation can be requested.
  • The President can be impeached by the Parliament for willfully violating the Constitution or the national laws.
  • This requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of the French Parliament, as well as in a joint session of both Houses.

Cohabitation in France

  • This system can lead to situations where the French legislature is dominated by a coalition/party opposing the President.
  • In such instances, the President is obliged to appoint a leader from the opposing party as Prime Minister, who enjoys the support of a parliamentary majority.
  • Cohabitation is very rare in France, and has historically been marred with controversy.
  • There have only been three such instances in the French Fifth Republic.

Upcoming polls

  • The French parliament is a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the National Assembly.

Source; IE

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