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Sarkozy triumphs in key parliament vote

Latest update : 2008-07-21

French lawmakers gave President Nicolas Sarkozy’s hotly debated constitutional reform package a narrow go-ahead. The bill scraped through with just one vote, in what Sarkozy called "a victory for democracy".

French lawmakers narrowly voted through Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to rewrite the constitution Monday which the president says will make France more democratic but which the opposition fears will turn it into a "monocracy."
The deputies and senators meeting in a special congress in the chateau of Versailles voted 539 for and 357 against, meaning that the bill scraped through by just one vote as a three-fifths majority was needed.
The bill sets a two-term limit for presidents, gives parliament a veto over some presidential appointments, ends government control over parliament's committee system and allows parliament to set its own agenda.
But the clause that dominated public debate is one letting the president address parliament once a year in a US-style state of the union speech, which the head of state has been barred from doing since 1875 to ensure the executive and legislative are kept separate.
The Socialists said the reforms are the equivalent of crowning Sarkozy king.
"While we were hoping for progress for democracy, you are offering us consolidation of 'monocracy'," Socialist senator Bernard Frimat told the congress in Versailles, the former residence of French kings, before the vote.
But rightwinger Sarkozy has argued that his reform of the constitution -- which was brought in by president Charles de Gaulle in 1958 and gives the president sweeping powers -- grants more weight to France's weak parliament.
He said the changes -- a key promise in the election campaign that brought him to power a year ago -- would make the head of state more accountable to lawmakers and to the public.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon called for "national cohesion" in his address to the Versailles congress that voted on the bill which modifies nearly half of the constitution's 89 articles.
"Our constitution is neither of the right nor of the left, it is our basic law which governs... the functioning of our democracy," he said.  
The bill, which also does away with the president's power to issue collective pardons, had looked far from certain to pass.
Because of the requirement for a three-fifths majority, Sarkozy was dependent on cross-party support.
He spent the weekend with his pop star wife Carla on a break in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, but, according to various sources, has been working the phones to try to win over wavering members of his own UMP party and consolidate support for the moves.
Despite last-minute concessions, the Socialists, the Greens and the Communists all said they would vote against.
Jack Lang, a member of a cross-party commission that laid the groundwork for the reform, is the only Socialist to have said he would vote for the bill.
The Socialists have asked for guarantees of equal time on national television to counterbalance the president's new right to address the parliament.
They also called for a change to the election of senators, who are chosen by local councillors and deputies in a system seen as favouring the right.
The reform bill also calls for a referendum to be held in France, which opposes Turkey's joining the EU and proposes "privileged partnership" instead, before any new member state is allowed into the bloc.
But that stipulation could be waived if a three-fifths majority in each assembly authorises the president to use parliamentary ratification instead.
Sarkozy was due back in Paris later Monday after a trip to Dublin to discuss the way forward following Ireland's shock rejection of the European Union's Lisbon treaty, which has plunged the bloc into fresh turmoil.
France on July 1 took over the rotating EU presidency.

Date created : 2008-07-21