FRANCE: The Fifth Republic?

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The Algerian crisis threatens to change the political structure of France.

The government of Socialist Premier Guy Mollet persists in office partly because no other majority among France's politicians wants to assume the onus of grappling with the dilemma of Algeria. When Mollet returns from a visit to Moscow next week, he will face a debate on his Algerian policy. Nowhere are there more misgivings about his policy than among the members of his own Socialist party, deeply uncomfortable about the war of repression which circumstance has forced on them. Mollet may survive, but will that be enough?

Reverse the Regime. Last week, watching the spreading decay in Algeria, increasing numbers of Frenchmen were reaching an unhappy conclusion: a policy of negatives will not save Algeria, and the Fourth Republic (which has had 22 Premiers in eleven years) seems incapable of providing anything else. Frenchmen of all shades of the political spectrum talked of the need for a fundamental revision of the regime itself.

Such talk has long been cafe chatter in France. What gave it sudden new weight was a short speech by Premier Mollet himself. Socialists have always been the most vociferous opponents of a strong executive, fearing right-wing authoritarianism. But last week Socialist Mollet declared: "The country has the impression that her institutions no longer correspond to the needs of the modern state. It is for the republicans themselves to take the initiative for a profound constitutional reform." Mollet declared that he intended to introduce "a small number of simple propositions" to provide "the assurance of governmental continuity."

In recent weeks talk has revolved around a bold reform—the institution of a regime presidentiel, patterned on the U.S. system.

Its most impressive advocate is the "Committee for the Study of the Republic," a body formed a year ago by Christian Pineau, now Foreign Minister. The committee included outstanding jurists, government officials and many political leaders, among them Pierre Mendes-France. It found that neither changes in the electoral system nor reforms of the present system could convert France to a two-party system like Britain's or the U.S.'s. But a constitution providing the country with a strong executive elected for a four-year term was possible, and, in fact, the committee said, "the most adaptable to French political habits."

The Man. In any discussion of such a President for France, the first name invoked is that of Charles de Gaulle. Not since he turned his back on what he called the "mudhole" of French politics has the name of De Gaulle been on so many lips. Wrote the Roman Catholic man of the left center, Novelist Francois Mauriac, in L'Express: "He appears to me the only Frenchman in whom reposes enough pure glory and who is gifted with enough prestige to revive in North Africa around France a federation of free peoples."

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