the Fourth Republic, with a mass membership but confined to opposition, or under the Fifth, when it has had the chance to hold ministerial office and affect policy directly, albeit as a minority.
Alternation in power has, it is true, repeatedly disappointed—most notably when the Left discovered the constraints of a global economy and of European integration. It is perhaps here that the organizational weakness of French parties, their declining ability to root themselves in civil society, their proneness to prolonged personal feuding (especially but not exclusively on the Right), their incapacity to renew their leaderships, and their continuing corruption, may prove dysfunctional. In other systems with better integrated parties, voter disappointment with government may cause temporary damage to the party considered most responsible; in France, more readily than elsewhere, disappointment may affect the wider system, as it did, with damaging consequences, in the 1990s. The implosion of the FN (after it had reproduced, in caricatural form, the leadership struggles characteristic of its competitors) and falling unemployment offered more optimistic perspectives for the new century; but the claim made by Jospin's advisers that his premiership has 'rehabilitated politics' is perhaps premature.
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