French Electoral Systems and Elections, 1789-1957

French Electoral Systems and Elections, 1789-1957

French Electoral Systems and Elections, 1789-1957

French Electoral Systems and Elections, 1789-1957

Excerpt

Louis Napoleon is reputed to have said that election was like baptism -- it was essential but one did not want to spend one's life in the font. Hence his coup d'état in 1851. In representative government the members of parliament are expected to face the electorate without reluctance even if their chances of re-election are slight. They have within their power one means of giving themselves reasonable cause for confidence: they can change the electoral law so as to promote their own success. The use of legal means to change the electoral system has sometimes been a means of conducting a coup d'état in kid gloves. From the Revolution to the present day France has had more coups d'état of this kind than of the other. Sometimes, however, a change has been the result of purer motives, such as the desire to increase the accuracy with which the people's opinions are represented in parliament or to aid the development of strong national parties which would ensure stable and effective government.

My purposes in this text are to examine the part played by electoral systems in French politics and to show what the systems were and how they worked. In the first chapter I discuss French attitudes towards the State, politics, and elections, and assess the place of electoral systems in the development of parties and the struggle for power. The remaining chapters describe the electoral laws and the election results, given in chronological order. This procedure may seem to be that of giving the verdict first and the evidence afterwards. I have adopted it because the general effects of the electoral systems are so closely connected with the political systems and conflicts that to try to deal with the political framework first, the details of the electoral systems second, and the general effects of those systems third, would involve either distortion or undue repetition.

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