Presidents and Prime Ministers

By Richard Rose; Ezra N. Suleiman | Go to book overview

3
Presidential Government in France

Ezra N. Suleiman

Any chief executive elected by universal suffrage is assumed to have vast powers that emanate from the office he holds. Except during periods of national emergencies, however, rare is the case in a parliamentary regime in which the chief executive can exercise his power free of some constraint, be it political, bureaucratic, or constitutional. John Morley once said that although the British Prime Minister is only primus inter pares--the "keystone to the cabinet arch," as he described him--the Prime Minister's powers are always great "and in an emergency not inferior to those of a dictator."1

In a parliamentary democracy, where the concern of government is to deal with everyday routinized matters of politics and not with wars, the exercise of political leadership rests on the chief executive's ability to use the political or constitutional powers of office and to escape from, or circumvent, the web of constraints that surrounds his freedom of action. The extent to which he can do both determines his success or failure as a political leader.

This chapter deals with executive leadership in contemporary France, whose constitution has been interpreted by a number of analysts as an expression of the "purest" form of executive leadership in modern democratic societies. Without doubt, the 1958 Constitution of

____________________
NOTE: The author wishes to thank Valerie Rubsamen for the help she rendered as a research assistant in the preparation of certain parts of this chapter. Acknowledgment is also made of the Spanish-American Committee's support for a comparative study of bureaucracies in Europe and the United States. Some of the preliminary findings of the larger study have been used in this chapter. This chapter was written under the auspices of the Center of International Studies, Princeton University, whose support is gratefully acknowledged.
1
Cited in Harold Wilson, The Governance of Britain ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976), p. 5.

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