In 1958, the highly centralized Fifth Republic was created, which lasts to the present day. Its constitution is characterized by the strong executive powers vested in the presidency. This constitution was approved by popular vote, and direct elections every seven years elect a President. The President presides over a cabinet of members headed by a Prime Minister of his or her choosing. The legislative body is divided into two houses, the National Assembly and the senate, whose members are elected for nine-year terms. The National Assembly's members are directly elected for five-year terms. The Senate members are indirectly elected by an electoral college to serve nine-year terms. The French judicial system assesses the constitutionality of legislation that is referred to review by the Parliament, Prime Minister or President.
The Fifth Republic was almost overthrown in 1968 by a radical alliance of students and industrial workers. In reaction, conservative presidents and center-right majorities in the National Assembly governed France throughout the 1970s. In 1981, a Socialist Francois Mitterland won the presidential election, the first time the Socialist party's candidate had been victorious. In May 1988, he was reelected for a second term.
Jacques Chirac, who had been both mayor of Paris and Prime Minister, had succeeded Mitterland as president in May of 1995 after a narrow victory over the Socialist challenger Lionel Jospin. In the legislature, Chirac had the benefit of a conservative majority. This came about after a victory for the right in the legislative elections in March 1993: unusually, the two right-wing parties, the Gaullist Rally for the Republic Party (RPR) and the more centrist Union Democratique Francaise (UDF)-normally fierce rivals, agreed to present joint candidates. Edouard Balladur of the RPR, a... [continues]
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