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This is an overview of the French political parties. You should know that France is lead by a President and a Prime Minister. The former is elected by everybody, the latter is the head of the parliamentary majority. For details, see French Constitution.

This writeup is in constant danger of being obsolete. It was last updated in February 2005. Please /msg me if something important has happened since and I haven't updated it yet.

Overview of the recent years

The majority in the Assemblée Nationale (the main chamber of the Parliament) has changed at every election since 1981. The following diagram will show the political side (left-wing or right-wing) of the President and of the government (i.e the Parliament):

President:
   1980           1985           1990           1995           2000           2005
  -+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
Left    <---------------------------------------->
Right                                             <-------------------------------
Government:
   1980           1985           1990           1995           2000           2005
  -+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
Left    <------------->      <------------->            <------------->
Right                  <---->               <---------->               <----------
  

As you can see, during 8 years out of 25, the government was not on the same side as the President, a situation known as cohabitation. The gaullists Jacques Chirac (from 86 to 88) and Edouard Balladur (from 93 to 95) were Primer Ministers for President François Mitterrand (a socialist). From 1997 to the May 2002 disaster, Lionel Jospin (socialist) was the Prime Minister for President Chirac. The government governs and the President presides, which means that the President has nothing to do or so during cohabitation, except on international affairs. On the contrary, since his re-election in May 2002, Chirac has more power in his country than most foreign leaders in theirs. The current Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, is only there to obey Chirac.

The political parties

As for political parties, there are a lot of them, and they change from time to time. Apart from the Communist Party, the most important have been created in the last 30 years.

Until the creation of the UMP (see below), the main political party used to be the left-wing Socialist party (PS). It is socialist as in "social democracy", not as in "Marx" (any more). This party was founded by François Mitterrand in 1969. Later, Mitterrand was President from 1981 to 1995 and is probably in hell by now. The Socialist leader was Lionel Jospin until he abandoned politics after his defeat in the 2002 Presidential Election. He was the Prime Minister because the Socialists won the elections in 1997. The leader is now François Hollande, but the party is very divided on European issues.

There are two important parties in the right wing:

  • The UDF (Union de la Démocratie Française, union of the French democracy): a collection of small center-right parties. Most of its members joined the UMP (see below) in 2002. François Bayrou, its leader, tries to maintain it.
  • The UMP (Union pour la Majorité Présidentielle, Union for the Presidential Majority), a party built to contribute to Jacques Chirac's re-election as a President in 2002. It should be renamed to something else in the autumn of 2002. It replaced the RPR (Rassemblement pour la République, gathering for the Republic), the gaullist party founded by Jacques Chirac, and most of the UDF (see above). It's the biggest party in France now. Chirac eventually won the Presidential election in 1995 after two failures. In year 1997, he had a bad idea: he called for new Parliament elections one year before the normal term, but the socialists won the election. So he had to appoint Jospin as Prime Minister. In 2002, in spite of being widely believed as being corrupt, he was re-elected thanks to an enormous mistake of most of the electors (see French 2002 Presidential Election).
    Although UMP was built by Chirac for his own use in 2002, another man took hold of the first role in the party two years later: Nicolas Sarkozy, who is very popular in France and inside UMP. Sarkozy is now the president of UMP and is likely to be the gaullist candidate in 2007. However, rumors say that Chirac, who doesn't like Sarkozy, may be candidate for a third term...

Other parties include (see (see French political parties for more information):

  • The Greens (les Verts). They are usually allied with the socialists, and try to push the socialists to their left.
  • Front National. It's a far-right party which ideology ranges from soft fascism to nationalism. The historical leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, is old, and his lieutenant Mégret has abandoned him. So they seemed on their decline until the 2002 Presidential Election, where Le Pen got more votes than Jospin at the first round and faced Chirac at the second round. Far right represents 15 to 20% of the people.
  • The Communist Party. Yeah, we have communists in France. We even have communists in the government from time to time, which frightened the CIA in 1981. Never mind, they are mostly harmless because they know they don't want to be fired. It bothers me a little, anyway.
  • LO (Lutte ouvrière, trotskysts). Their leader Arlette Laguillier is very charismatic. Everybody loves Arlette. Three trotskyite candidates got around 10% of the votes at the 2002 Presidential Election, when the tradictional communist candidate only got 3.5%.

If you add the votes for communists, far-right, greens, Arlette Laguillier and a few others, they usually amount to 25 to 30% of the votes. In the first round of the 2002 Presidential Election, they reached almost 40%.

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