Politics of France

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French politics under the Fifth Republic

After Charles de Gaulle had the constitution of the French Fifth Republic adopted in 1958, France was ruled by successive right-wing administrations until 1981. Throughout the 1960s, left-wing parties fared rather badly in national elections. The successive governments generally applied the Gaullist program of national independence, and modernization in a dirigiste fashion. The Gaullist government, however, was criticized for its heavy-handedness: while elections were free, the state had a monopoly on radio and TV broadcasting and sought to have its point of view on events imposed (this monopoly was not absolute, however, since there were radio stations transmitting from nearby countries specifically for the benefit of the French). De Gaulle's social policies were decidedly conservative.

In May 1968, series of worker strikes and student riots rocked France. These did not, however, result in an immediate change of government, with a right-wing administration being triumphantly reelected in the snap election of June 1968.

The French electorate turned down a 1969 referendum on the reform of the French Senate, in a move widely considered to be mostly motivated by weariness with de Gaulle.

In 1981, François Mitterrand, a Socialist, was elected president, on a program of far-reaching reforms. After securing a majority in parliament through a snap election, his government ran a program of social and economic reforms:

* social reforms:

o abolition of the death penalty;

o removal of legislation criminalizing certain homosexual behaviors: lowering of the age of consent for homosexual sex to that for heterosexual sex (since the French Revolution, France had never criminalized homosexuality between adults in private, but since the 1960s until this time, homosexuality was officially considered an illness to be cured);

* economic reforms:

o the government embarked on a wave of nationalizations;

o the duration of the legal...