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What is meant by the French party system, and what has produced its changing form in the period since 1958?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The term ?French party system'.
  3. The political parties of the Third Republic.
  4. The Fourth Republic.
  5. The Fifth Republic.
    1. The revised constitution of the Fifth Republic.
    2. The institutions as settled by the constitution.
  6. The electorate system.
  7. Bipolarization.
    1. The politico-institutional factors used to account for the bipolarization.
    2. The bipolar structure.
    3. The 1981 elections.
  8. Conclusion.
  9. Bibliography.

The French party system emerged in the form of parliamentary factions in the Third Republic. Soon enough, these factions were no longer only evident at the parliamentary level, but were organising the nation. From 1958, there is a considerable change in the organisation of the political parties in France as the constitution of this year recognises political parties as legitimate ?representative institutions'. These changes had an impact not only on the role of the parties, but also on the way in which politics and elections took place. The term ?French party system' implies that there are political parties, which work together in a system as a system. The system is not static and so, as has been noticed over the years, varied in form. There have been three main compositions to the French party system: a strongly polarised multi-partisan system, strict bi-polarisation, and multi-partisan with a dominant party.

[...] Bipolarisation reached its peak in 1978 with what is called a quadrille bipolaire. During this time, four main parties were able to successfully gain 20-25% of the votes each showing that voter preferences were evenly distributed between the right (RPR and UDF) and the left (PCF and PS) of the political spectrum. However, this system is no longer in place and Cole claims that it is partly due to the particular make up of each party citing the PCF as an example of declining importance in the new post-communist world order. [...]

[...] However, once the Socialists rose to office, the population was quickly disillusioned and felt betrayed, as there seemed to be a considerable discrepancy between ?theoretical claims with practical results?[7]. They were displaced in 1986 by the conservative government further supporting the bipolarised structure of the party system showing an alternation of left and right wing governments. As it turned out, the French were equally dissatisfied by the conservatives as they had been previously with the socialists leading to a crisis in the party system and voter confidence. [...]

[...] The Fifth Republic brought stability to the French party system as de Gaulle initiated a number of changes. These include a redrafting of the constitution as well as an amendment. Through these changes, which shall be further discussed below, the party system seemed to be becoming increasingly presidential. Not only did the party system enjoy greater stability, but also it underwent a simplification during the 1960s and the 1970s due to the process of bipolarisation that emerged. The first of the changes under the Fifth Republic began in 1958 when before accepting to come to power, de Gaulle negotiated a strengthening of the constitution, which would see more powers attributed to the President. [...]

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