Writing in his recently launched book, March of Patriots, Paul Kelly thinks the future of the politicians’ republic is either a long period in ’storage’ or “an imaginative effort to find a viable direct election method.” (Paul Kelly is a senior journalist with The Australian, and closely covered the republican campaign over the last decades.)
This is indeed a pessimistic prediction for republicans.
A trial, called by some “the trial of the century”, has just opened in Paris. It demonstrates why Australians would be unwise to change their tried and tested constitutional system to a politicians’ republic, even an “imaginative” one.
The case results from a complaint to magistrates by the President, Nicholas Sarkozy, about the improper inclusion of his name in a list of the names of businessmen, celebrities and politicians sent to a judge. It was alleged all those named were laundering bribes through secret accounts with the Clearstream bank in Luxembourg.
The defendant, in what is also being called the Clearstream affair, is the aristocratic former Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin. Before the last presidential election, he and the President were rivals for the leadership of their party in succession to President Jacques Chirac, who was playing one off against the other in the hope of another term.
….former PM claims President behind political trial…
M de Villepin has been charged with criminal libel. "I am here because of the decision of one man and the obsession of one man: Nicolas Sarkozy," he said before entering the courtroom.
According to Henry Samuel writing for the London Daily Telegraph (21/9) the “blue-blooded” former diplomat and prime minister faces a five-year prison term and a 45,000-Euro (A$ 76,486) fine. He suggested the French president was using the trial as a political weapon to destroy him.
President Sarkozy will not have to appear in court and neither will his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed immunity from questioning under French law. A court official showed The Sunday Telegraph’s ( 13/9) Kim Willsher the small wooden door at the back of the chamber through which Queen Marie Antoinette entered in 1793 and from which she left, after the show trial on trumped up charges in the Reign of Terror under the First Republic.
…Australian republic similar to Fifth ….
The original model for an Australian politicians’ republic proposed in the nineties was similar to the French Fifth Republic, where the president was originally chosen by a college including members of parliament. He was not supposed to be an executive president.
A prime minister, broadly responsible to parliament but appointed by the president , would head the government. That took no account of the personality of the first president General Charles de Gaulle who exercised his powers to the full.
The reason for the Fifth Republic was the frequent failure of French constitutional systems. There have been more than a dozen since the settlement of Australia, including five republics, four monarchies, two empires, several revolutionary regimes, including the Reign of Terror, and one fascist government.
In the Fifth Republic both the powerful president and the prime minister are politicians. When they come from different parties this leads to a difficult period of cohabitation, when they plot against one another.
…Australian republicans did not think through…
The weakness of the first Keating Turnbull republic- which ACM exposed- was that it would lead to something close to a French Fifth Republic because of the vast powers inherited by the president from the governor-General. Without the constraints of the Australian Crown, and the conventions which surround it, an elected president would eventually take them as his own.
An important point which escaped most commentators was that this would happen without direct election, which it did in the first version of the Fifth Republic. Under the first Keating- Turnbull republic the president had tenure- he could only be removed by a two thirds vote in parliament. The opposition would never join the government to remove a president which was doing the oppositions’ bidding.