May 6

A head of state beyond politics


Australia’s republicans have long demonstrated an inability to think through their proposals, and a cavalier attitude in preparing the ground.

If they are criticised, some resort to personal abuse. In recent months this has even become racist: I am, according to a site controlled by the media director of the ARM, a "perma-tanned Indonesian-born blow-in." 

One of the consequences of the first Keating Turnbull model was that their president would gradually assume the role of the president of the present French Fifth Republic. 


Many if not most of the republican delegates at the Constiutional Convention probably did not know that under the Fifth Republic, the president was not at first directly elected.

That presidency was not intended to incorporate the control the first incumbent, General de Gaulle, assumed.  A lack of strong and  effective checks and balances – and the personality of the General, achieved this.



In the early nineties the Australian republican movement had intended that their president be similar to the President of the French Third and Fourth republics.

They were unable to draft a constitution to achieve this.  Then in the face of criticism from ACM and Richard McGarvie, they amended their model at the 1998 Convention.

But in doing so they managed to design the only republic ever known where it would be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.

He or she could have been dismissed by the prime minister

  • without notice,
  • without reasons and
  • without any effective  appeal. 

This of course would mean that the president  would have been the prime minister's poodle. Which is what one leading republican told me was the intention.

…head of state and of government…

But let us return to the Fifth Republic, which we would have ha dunder the first Turnbull-Keating Republic.

 There is a danger in having such a president who, notwithstanding the existence of an official called prime minister, is in effect both head of state and head of government.

The danger of this is exemplified by Emma-Kate Symons in The Australian (9/2) in “Sarkozy on a loser aping the far right

Charles de Gaulle must be turning in his grave.  The brave general risked all as the Nazis swept Europe and millions of French fell in behind the collaborationist Philippe Petain.

Out of the ashes of World War II and the shame of fascism a la Francaise, de Gaulle forged an alliance with the left-wing resistance to create a new republic, and a Centre-Right party formed in his own image.

Opposed to all that Vichy France represented, in favour of decolonisation and an independent foreign policy, this giant of the 20th century never accepted compromises or deals with the forces of extremism.

Today, the heir to the political movement founded by de Gaulle, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has trashed the heritage of its founder. By pandering relentlessly to the fear and racism of the far-Right National Front, reborn under the bleue-Marine wave of Jean-Marie Le Pen's daughter, Sarkozy has destroyed his political party's raison d'etre and, in all likelihood, his own chances of re-election.

And Sarkozy has changed the culture and landscape of French and European politics for the worse, by slavishly following the agenda set by the extreme Right, instead of doing his job as head of state and defining the debate. 


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