As I’m going to vote in a few moments for the french presidential elections, I can’t help but think: if Segolène Royal (the socialist candidate, that is, the left wing) is elected, what’s going to happen to her husband, François Hollande, who’s heading the Socialist party ?
To understand, you have to know that in the France of the 5th Republic, that is today, the president is elected by popular vote. He (or she) has the main mission to be the keeper of the institutions, and has little executive power. The Prime Minister has. The President retains a few powers however: on the military side, she’s the head of the army, she decides for the use of nuclear weapons. On the institutional side, she’s got at least two important privileges at her disposal: she has a right to nominate people in a few selected commissions, but only at the end of the term of the people already en place.
And she can revoke the legislative assembly. Twice during her term, that’s her constitutional power. The french name for the legislative assembly is the Assemblée Nationale by the way.
Now, take the Prime Minister. He’s the executive. He chooses his team, the other ministers. He isn’t elected. Formally, he’s called by the President, but actually, the Assemblée Nationale (whose members are also elected by a popular vote), can turn down the government at any time. Thus, the President generally calls as the Prime Minister the head of the party winning the legislative vote (the vote that populates the Assemblée Nationale If he wouldn’t, the newly nominated Prime Minister would be immediately turned down by the Assemblée Nationale but this has never happened under the 5th Republic.
Thus, the President, head of the State, can be from a different wing than the Prime Minister, head of the executive, and it has happened many times in the last 30 years (in the US, for example, this particular case can’t happen because the President is both the head of the State and the head of the Executive. However, the legislative assembly can be from a different wing of course, this is one of the characteristics of a democracy).
Let us summarize: the President can dissolve the Assemblée Nationale which is elected by a popular vote, and the Prime Minister is generally the head of the party having the majority at the Assemblée Nationale.
Let us say that Mrs Royal wins the election, which she can according to the research institutes, she could call for a new legislative election (today the Assemblée Nationale is controlled by the right wing), but she won’t have to because a new poll is scheduled this year anyway. Let’s further say that the result of this election is the Socialist Party controlling the Assemblée Nationale a pattern of elections we’ve already seen in the past (in 1981). Who’s gonna be prime Minister ? Not Mr Hollande, the head of the Socialist party.
Having Mrs President and Mr Prime Minister is just unthinkable. Actually, having Mrs being the President, and Mr being part of the government is just unthinkable as much. French have fought hard to get rid of the monarchy, with their blood. This is not to have a single family in control. This is hard enough to vote for someone called “Royal” (humour).
So who’s gonna be the Prime Minister, if all of this happens ? Someone else. Not Mr Hollande. Someone else from the Socialist party. Let’s hope that this is gonna be someone young and fresh, but I think we can trust Mrs Royal at least in this respect.
Here’s my (free) advice to the young and fresh one: you gonna have hard time. Controlled by Mrs the President on one side, and Mr controlling the assembly on the other side, it’s very unlikely you’ll have a way to get out of your assigned course…
A final word: if the Socialist party doesn’t make it to the 2nd round, it will very likely explode into a few small parties, making it the end of an actual socialist party in France. This will set the fate of Mr Hollande.