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Parliamentary Forms Of Government

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Parliamentary Forms of Government

It is true that both France and the United Kingdom posses a democratic parliamentary system of government, however the implementation of this form of government vastly differs between the two nations. France's governmental structure is that of a republic with a parliamentary democracy. The current structure, the Fifth Republic, has been in place since 1958. The government consists of three branches: the executive branch; of which the President and the Prime Minister are the heads, the Legislative branch; which consists of a Senate and a National Assembly, and a judicial branch, charged with creating and enforcing the laws.

The French parliamentary system differs from the British parliamentary system in that it has been called a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, having both a president and a prime minister. Under the hybrid system, the president has many powers, but his authority is checked by direct popular elections every five years. Direct popular elections select the parliament as well, and if the legislature and president are on opposite sides of issues, the cabinet and prime minister must arbitrate the difference. The powers of the president include: election by popular vote, selection of the Prime Minister and direction of the policy decisions of the Cabinet, submission of any legislative proposal to the electorate as a referendum, ability to dissolve parliament and call for new elections, and emergency powers in situations of "grave threat".

The executive branch of the French government also includes a prime minister and cabinet. According to the Constitution of 1958, the Prime Minister "shall direct the operation of the government", and the government "shall determine and direct the policy of the Nation." Until 1986 the prime minister and the cabinet operated to provide the direction or resources necessary to implement the policies conceived by the president. One of the many functions of the prime minister is to rally a parliamentary majority for presidential policies, since a majority in parliament may censure or reject a governmental program, forcing the resignation of the cabinet.

From 1958 until 1986, the prime minister was of the same political party as the president. In 1986, parliamentary elections changed the balance of power in the National Assembly to the right, although the presidency was held by the socialist, Francois Mitterrand. To ensure the support of parliament, Mitterrand selected a prime minister from the right, Jacques Chirac. This situation, when the president is from one political party and the prime minister is from another, is called cohabitation. When the parliamentary majority supports the President, he is the real head of government. When the opposition to the President has a majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister is the real head of government.

During periods of cohabitation, the President still participates in determining France's foreign and military policy, but he no longer sets the other political orientations. When the presidential and parliamentary majorities are in agreement, he gives discretion, more or less, to his Prime Minister, depending on political atmosphere and mood, but he imposes the guidelines and makes the specific choices which suit him within the limits, of course, of respect for constitutional forms and procedures.

Under cohabitation, and with the support of the National Assembly, former Prime Ministers Chirac, Balladur, and Jospin pursued their own legislative agendas in contradiction with the Presidents agenda. However, in all cases, the power of these Prime Ministers only lasted until the next election. All three resigned instead of facing censure, or removal from office.

The French legislature is bicameral, the upper house being the Senate, and the lower house the National Assembly.

The French Senate was created to represent territorial subunits, and to provide stability to the National Assembly. The Senates 321 senators are selected by an electoral college made up of deputies, small-town mayors, and regional officials. Senators serve nine-year terms, and their policy-making powers are limited primarily because a simple majority in the National Assembly may override any objections that senators have to their bills.

The National Assembly consists of 577 members, or deputies, elected by the people for a five-year term. Members of the Senate are chosen by local electoral colleges in each region for a term of nine years. If the President sees fit, he may call for a new legislatorial election before the term limits have expired. The strength of the assembly lies in the general popular support that individuals have for their deputies, many of whom have held local offices as well. The most important powers of the Assembly are the enactments of law and the ability to censure the government.

Like the French form of government, the British Parliament is also bicameral; this is however, perhaps with a few other similarities, the greatest likeness between the two governments.

In a parliamentary system the legislature holds supreme power. There is no clear separation of legislative and executive branches of the government; the executive branch is, structurally, a committee of the legislature. The power exercised by Parliament is unlimited, making it in fact the sovereign of the nation. The British Parliament serves as the legislative


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