5 SEPTEMBER 1958, Page 5

France's Three Referendums


1945 it was also in working-class Paris, at the Place de la Bastille itself, that the General held his one July 14 parade, instead of on the Champs Elysees as had always. been done before and has been since.

The General 'wishes to underline that his is a republican constitution—with a government re- sponsible to an Assembly elected by universal suffrage. It is true that, with the record of the bankrupt Fourth Republic in mind, he has in- stituted, severe limitations on the ways in which the Assembly is to exercise its control and has cut its members off from access to ministerial office; it is true, too, that behind the Prime Minister will be a President elected by the county councils and municipalities of France, with Powers sufficiently extensive in normal times to exercise severe pressure on all but very strong governments. The President's emergency powers completely override the government, though they have to be exercised in the presence of Parlia- ment, if that body can, physically, meet. But these powers are probably intended by the General for genuine emergencies such as occurred in June, 1940, or would be caused by atomic warfare. With General de Gaulle as President it is not very likely that they would be abused. (Under a successor they might well be.) For the time being the constitution should perhaps be judged apart from them, and the General should be given the favour of the doubt as to its republican character.

The constitution, however, is not merely con- cerned with the metropolitan institutions of France, but also, explicitly, with the future status of French overseas territories and, implicitly, with Algeria, an area of which it makes no men- tion (or at least has not prior to the final text— not available at the time of writing). The General's first campaign for the referendum was not conducted in France itself. It opened in Antananarivo, was continued on the banks of the Congo at Brazzaville and concluded at Dakar. It was remarkable for solemn declarations on the General's part that it an overseas terri- tory voted for secession it would be allowed to secede, that a majority of 'noes' in such a terri- tory would be taken to mean just that, and that a majority of 'ayes' would not remove the right of secession at a future date.

As for Algeria, not an overseas territory, but a group of fifteen departments, nobody knows what a majority of 'noes' there would mean. It is not a respectable supposition. General de Gaulle has said that a majority of `ayes' there will mean the desire of Algerians to be 'full-share' French citizens working out their future inside the French framework. He has not said that there cannot be autonomous institutions within that frame- work. General Salan, however, the Commander- in-Chief and Delegate-General in Algeria, has made it clear that in his view a majority of 'ayes' in Algeria will mean approval of integration- i.e., the Algerians to enjoy an equal status with all other Frenchmen, but without separate insti- tutions, and with the Moslems therefore in a permanent minority of at present nine millions in a nation of fifty-three millions.

It is obvious, therefore, that French citizens in France, in Black Africa and in Algeria will be voting about quite different things, in quite different conditions. Tetnoignage Chretien puts it this way : 'For a Moslem of Algeria to vote "yes" is to accept integration. So he is informed by Le Bled (the army newspaper) and the men d May 13. For a Negro of the Ivory Coast to vote "yes" is to accept a proposal of association made by France to a country that has attained its majority and retains the right to tear up the con- tract if its terms are not respected or simply no longer give it satisfaction. For a metropolitan Frenchman to vote "yes" is to approve a consti- tutional ,text badly drafted and obscure, which might be a stepping-stone to a dictatorship or else a service lift to a new republic of the 1875 type.'

Apart from the ambiguity of adding up to a single total answers to these diverse questions , there is the impropriety of treating all the votes as equally free. It will not need much character for a Frenchman in France to vote `no,' even if, as seems likely, the campaign will be one-sided. In Madagascar and Black Africa pressure, if brought, is far more likely to come from the local elected authorities than from the representatives of the central government. This would not in all cases be favourable to the new constitution. As far as voting cart be free in such politically in- experienced countries it may well prove to be so.

But in Algeria the vote cannot be really free, because there is no free prgss, no elected authority and no guarantee of liberty of the person. On the one side there is the authority of the army, in civil no less than military matters—and on the other the clandestine authority of the rebels. The authority of the army is not identical with that of Paris. This does not merely mean that the Algerian vote will not necessarily represent Algerian opinion. The Europeans in Algeria, in alliance with the army in Algeria, overthrew the Fourth Republic. General de Gaulle has saved France herself from a military dictatorship, but he exercises only a limited authority in Algeria itself and has emancipated the army from any civilian control, except his own as Prime Minister. Madame Tillion, a profound observer of Algerian affairs, has observed that the war has transformed the situation in Algeria in that on the one side all French civilian authority and on the other all traditional authority amongst the Moslems has alike withered away. French soldiers and rebels are face to face in .a political vacuum. In this situation, if the army is deeply persuaded of the rightness of a particular policy, it is in practice impossible for Paris, even General de Gaulle's Paris, to modify this policy greatly.

The army must itself discover it is wrong. How long will it take? Meanwhile it is liable to attribute unsuccess to Paris. Though it was in Algiers that General de Gaulle was first publicly acclaimed, this was as a convenience rather than as a leader. Algiers has little patience with the General's republican Ministers or liking for his offer of independence to Madagascar and the Ivory Coast. Further integration involves the pre- fabrication of French citizens by the army. Such citizens would themselves disintegrate if mingled with the more genuine article of metropolitan France. As long, therefore, as Algeria remains in her present condition she is a grave threat to the republican character of General de Gaulle's or anybody else's constitution. The situation guarantees only one set of liberties—those of Black Africa; the French army cannot operate simultaneously on both sides of the Sahara.