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France Votes To Cut President Term

June 29, 2000

PARIS (AP) _ The French Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill to cut the presidential term from seven to five years, setting in place the groundwork for a major constitutional change.

The Senate voted 228 to 34 in favor of the proposal, which was adopted by the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, last week. There were eight abstentions and fifty-one senators did not show up for the vote.

The next step lies with President Jacques Chirac, who must decide whether to hold a referendum on changing the constitution or convene a special Congress of both legislative branches to approve the reform.

Chirac, who has voiced his preference for a referendum, was expected to announce his decision as early as next week.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou praised Thursday’s vote, calling the reduced presidential term a ``necessary reform″ that ``will give a new democratic impetus to political life.″

``Electing the president more often would give citizens the possibility of exercising one of their fundamental rights more regularly,″ Guigou said, adding that a reduced term would limit the shortcomings of a so-called ``cohabitation.″

The existing ``cohabitation″ serves as a check on the president’s vast powers by requiring him to serve alongside a government from the opposition.

Opponents of the reform say it could upset the balance created by a president of one party serving at the same time as a government of another.

Under the current system, French presidents can serve two consecutive terms, or stay in office for 14 years. Presidential elections are held every seven years and parliamentary elections every five.

The measure has wide support among the Socialists, who hold a comfortable majority in parliament. Opinion polls show that French would easily approve the change in a referendum.

Chirac had opposed the measure, but recently came out in favor of limiting the presidential mandate. If approved, the new presidential term would take effect following presidential elections in 2002.

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