‘Fifth Republic keeps wafer-thin majority in the Assembly’, announced Le Monde on 14 March 1967, referring to the Gaullists’ narrow parliamentary election victory. For many observers, over a decade and more, the Gaullist UNR was not just a party; it was cosubstantial with the regime itself. This perception had been shaped in part by the sharp opposition between Gaullists and the cartel des non at the October 1962 referendum on the direct election of the president. But it was also underpinned by the coincidence between a still-new regime embodying a degree of personal leadership unknown under the two previous Republics, and a party, similarly imbued with the leader principle, exercising a degree of dominance equally unprecedented in earlier Republics. The party enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the President, self-evidently France’s most powerful politician, who could count on its unstinting support in parliament and in the country. And de Gaulle’s deliberately personal exercise of power led many anti-Gaullists of the 1960s to assume that the Gaullist ascendancy was based on the charismatic leadership of one man, whose departure or death would precipitate the collapse of the regime, or failing that of the party.
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