The government of France is based on the constitution of the fifth republic which was introduced by De Gaulle in 1958, following a referendum.
Principles of the constitution
The principles of the fifth republic evolved from those of the fourth republic and include : legal equality of all citizens, presumption of innocence, freedom of political opinion, freedom of religious opinion, freedom of speech, accountability of government to the people, freedom of citizen property rights and protection of the environment.
The executive is a branch headed by the prime minister and the president.
The president appoints the prime minister, but in theory can not dismiss him. Prime ministers are often asked to sign an undated notice of resignation upon appointment.
Thus the president is the most powerful element of government, but can be weakened by a government of an opposing political view.
The president is elected for a five year term which runs almost concurrently with the five year term of the assembly. The most recent of these elections was in 2007.
The prime minister countersigns the orders of the president, and is the senior executive in the government as well as head of the cabinet. The nations criticisms of government policy are normally directed towards the prime minister.
Parliament consists of two houses : the Senate and the National Assembly.
The senate is undergoing ongoing minor changes. The structure will be (by 2010) 346 senators elected indirectly by approximately 150,000 local politicians including mayors, city councillors and deputies of the national assembly. 50% of senators will be elected every 3 years, and serve a term of 6 years. The system favours rural areas and results in a conservative biais.
The French National Assembly has 577 members (deputies), individually elected by citizens of each constituency. Elections to the Assembly are via a two round system, normally every 5 years. The President can call for an election earlier.
It has a president, normally from the largest party in the assembly, and a number of vice presidents from other parties.
Congress is a joint meeting of the Assembly and the Senate to consider changes to the constitution.
The main political parties are :
Union for French Democracy
Movement for France
Rally for France and European Independence
National Republican Movement
Left Radical Party
French Communist Party
Citizen and Republican Movement
Hunt, Fish, Nature, Traditions
Union for a Popular Movement
National Center of Independents and Peasants
Revolutionary Communist League
C = Centrist
E = Eurosceptic
FR = Far right
G = Greens
UDF, PS and UMP are currently the major parties in the assembly.