Harun Yahya

A semi-presidential system that is constantly dysfunctional: The example of France

There is a mistaken conviction stating that new laws would swiftly and easily be passed from the legislative assembly with a presidential system. Actually this is not the case at all. 

The only difference between the parliamentary system and the presidential system is that instead of an executive system worked by a Prime Minister and a Council of Ministers, the latter works with a President that cannot be audited or unseated by anyone during the term for which he is elected. The voters who elect a president in the executive system also elect an assembly for the legislative system.  Consequently, without a culture of compromise, both in the presidential system and in the parliamentary system the new laws will pass through in the same manner. 

For instance, Brazil, one of the Latin American countries, is a country of coalitions. On average four parties constitute a coalition and sometimes this number even reaches eight. It is very difficult for new laws to pass through the assembly in this way. Some countries even give the President the authority to bypass the assembly with statutory decrees. Such excessive authority of course causes antidemocratic management and drags the country into a dictatorship. 

There is no exemplary democracy among the African, Asian and Latin American countries governed with the presidential system due to the lack of a conciliatory culture in the society and to the excessive authorities bestowed upon the presidents.


There are only two countries in the world that do not deviate much from democracy with the presidential system: The U.S and France. However in both of those countries, when the opposition preponderates, the political systems go into gridlock. 

In the U.S., the government has shut down twice in the last 20 years and the American nation became inoperable for weeks.  The U.S. suffered at least 50 billion dollars in damage during these two incidents. These processes also had a very negative effect on millions of citizens in need of social help.  People lost their confidence in the state and the government.

In the last 45 years during the term of seven different American presidents, the opposition had the upper hand in both wings of the Congress. During these periods, none of the bills of law proposed by the party in power have passed the assembly. 

In France, with its semi-presidential system, a very crucial condition is required for the system to function properly and that is for the President and the Prime Minister to be from the same party. Otherwise, just like it is in the US, the system is gridlocked in France as well. 


The period in which the President and the Prime Minister are from different political groups in France is called "Cohabitation." During these times, French politics witness intense incompabilities and the system becomes inoperative.  In cohabitation periods, the authority of the President remains limited simply to foreign relations and defense.  Although the President in France's semi-presidential system has broad responsibilities such as assigning the Prime Minister and dissolving the government, during cohabitation periods not even the shadow of such power remains.  Presidents fail to keep their reform promises and they fail in their executive functions in the true sense.  As a result of power and authority disputes, everything is jammed and a two- headed system holds sway over the country.

This political vicious circle repeated itself many times in France during the last 30 years. 

Mitterrand-Chirac Period (1986-1988): This period is the first cohabitation government of the French Fifth Republic. With socialist Mitterrand as the President, the right wing RPR Party - with Chirac as their leader - held a majority in the assembly. Mitterrand had to assign Chirac and Chirac became a powerful Prime Minister in the coalition. 

With Mitterrand being focused in foreign politics at the beginning, it seemed like there were no big problems, the conflicts that started in domestic politics caused grave political tensions in the country later on. The first thing Chirac did as soon as he became prime minister was to stop important reports and documents issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from reaching the president.  Mitterrand, on the other hand, threatened Chirac with approving his decisions in the parliament.  Moreover, Mitterrand went even further to call out high school students to protest Chirac. 

Roland Dumas, one of the former French ministers of foreign affairs, discussed the disputes between Mitterrand and Chirac widely in his memoirs.  One of those is a memoir of foreign Chancellor of Federal Germany Kohl. Mitterrand and Chirac interpreted the rulings of the constitution quite differently.   Mitterrand maintained that he carried the capacity of the Commander Chief of the Army and thus had the authority to deploy and use nuclear weapons, and consequently he claimed that he was the one who had the most say in the foreign and security policies of the country. Chirac on the other hand claimed that he had that authority by taking the clause in the constitution which states "the government determines and executes the policy of the nation," into consideration. There was complete gridlock in the country. 

This dispute showed itself in EU summits as well. In the press conferences Mitterrand prevented Chirac's speaking after him. During his visit to Moscow, Chirac insisted that the protocol followed for Mitterrand be followed for him as well. Mitterand, on the other hand, prevented this by making indirect attempts before the Soviet leaders.

Actually the relations between Chirac and Mitterand went back to 1981. Rightist Chirac offered Mitterand who was the successor of socialist President Giscard and his foe to get rid of Giscard. (Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Le Pouvoir et la Vie, v. III, Cie 12, Paris 2006) http://www.radikal.com.tr/haber.php?haberno=212541

Such an offer of alliance in France - in which left and right parties are in a cutthroat competition - is only one of those incidents that shows the state of French political system.

Mitterrand-Balladur Period (1993-1995): When rightist parties received 80% of votes in the elections, Mitterand had to assign Balladur as Prime Minister. Gridlock continued in the country until Chirac won the next presidential election and replaced Mitterand. 

Chirac-Jospin Period (1997-2002): In 1997, Chirac went to elections after dissolving the parliament. However, the socialists gained the majority in the parliament and thus he had to assign Jospin  as the Prime Minister. The French call this period which lasted five years as the "Paralysis".

Similar deadlocks appear in Romania, which also has a semi-presidential system. In 2012, a situation even worse than in France appeared between President of Romania Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The tension grew until the parliament suspended the authories of the President. After the President was relieved of his duties, a referendum was  held. The supporters of Basescu boycotted the referendum.  The referendum resulted in a decision to relieve the President of his duties. Romania's Constitutional Court declared the referendum null and void.   Incidents reached the level of country- wide street uprisings. This period of commotion continued for six months. 


France has been in the Fifth Republic since 1958. The semi- presidential system in France is a model in which the executive power is shared by the President ad the Prime Minister. The President is able to influence the government but Prime Minister holds sway over the state bureaucracy. The search for reforms have constantly been voiced since the 1970s. In fact, over the last 67 years, there have been changes to the French constitution for ten times. After the cohabitation period these demands for change are increasing. Moreover in 1997 some intellectuals even voiced through Le Monde Daily suggestions for a new republic.

As a result of cohabitation, the French have decreased the presidential term to five years from seven years as a temporary precaution.  When the term of office for the parliament and the President is the same, it is hoped that voters will vote for the same general candidates (ie, left or right wing).  However everyone understand that this  would only shorten the time of conflicts rather than preventing such conflicts; that is because French people have a culture that evaluates parliament and the president individually. On the other hand the President is elected in a runoff election. Even if the right wing parties have a majority in the parliament, a socialist President can easily be elected.  Besides, secret alliances between rightist and socialist candidates are quite often seen before the elections in France. As a result, the country can  easily fall into a new cohabitation period.  

In the parliamentary system currently seen in Turkey, it is very difficult to experience a cohabitation crisis.  In our system, the President only has the authority to dissolve the Parliament in cases of no confidence votes or if the Turkish Grand National Assembly Executive board could not be found in 45 days.   Improvements could always be done regarding such articles and improve our parliamentary system. Consequently, it is not possible to have an environment similar to that of France under the current constitutional conditions of Turkey. 

Adnan Oktar's piece on Jefferson Corner:


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