One thought on “Just how unstable was the Fourth Republic?

  1. “… the French political system is terminally sick. The historical background certainly confirms this. For more than 30 years, every French government has lost every election. With a single exception, you have to be over 50 today to have voted in the last election, in 1978, when the incumbent majority held on to power: Nicolas Sarkozy managed to get a conservative majority re-elected in 2007 only because he profiled himself, dishonestly, as a new broom and as a rebel against the roi fainéant, his former mentor Jacques Chirac. Add to this the fact that in 2005 the referendum on the European constitution produced a ‘no ‘vote – that is, a disavowal of the entire political establishment – and you are confronted with a bitter reality: the French electorate hates its politicians and takes every chance to vote against them…”

    – John Laughland, “Why France’s gay marriage debate has started to look like a revolution: The bitter battle over gay marriage is a symptom of a broken political system”, The Spectator (27 April 2013).

    At first glance, I thought “that can’t be right” – obviously Presidents have been re-elected (Mitterrand in 1981 and 1988, Chirac in 1995 and 2002). But on reflection, what he means is that if you count

    (a) each presidential election plus the “honeymoon” dissolution parliamentary election following immediately after it, and

    (b) each “non-honeymoon” (ie, quinquennial expiry) parliamentary election,

    – as a separate “electoral contest,” then yes, neither Left nor Right has won two electoral contests in a row since Giscard pulled it off in 1974 and 1978.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in The Spectator, Prof James Allan praises the virtues of single-member districts for having given, err, Canada stable majority governments “at least nine times out of ten”. The rest of the piece is warmed-over Hermens explaining why PR is terribly unpopular with Continental Europeans because it doesn’t produce clear-cut single-party majorities. I had always wondered why the Swiss, for example, keep signing petitions to abolish their PR voting system by referendum. Can I please have it minuted that I obtained my LL.B from UQ long before Prof Allan began teaching there.

    So that’s the official Spectator line: single-member electorates are the best and produce the most legitimate results! Oh, and by the way the only nation in western Europe that still uses single-member electorates for its lower house has a “terminally sick” political system. Two magazines in one…

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