Alistair Cole
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Stress, strain and stability in the French party system

This chapter presents an overview of the evolution of the French party system in the first forty-five years of the Fifth Republic. During the Third and Fourth Republics, the fragmented structure of the party system, along with the parliamentary basis of political power, had a direct and divisive impact upon governmental stability. Even 'strong' parties, such as the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), relied more on the logistical infrastructure provided by municipal government than on their formal party organisations. The chapter identifies the stresses and strains and maps out the important changes that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. It also identifies three underlying causes of party continuity: institutional incentives, flexible and adaptable party organisations, and the absorptive capacity of the main French political traditions.

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