1956 French legislative election

French legislative elections to elect the third National Assembly of the Fourth Republic took place on 2 January 1956 using party-list proportional representation.[1] The elections had been scheduled for June 1956; however, they were brought forward by Edgar Faure using a constitutional sanction.[2]

1956 French legislative election

2 January 1956

All 595 seats to the French National Assembly
298 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Maurice Thorez none Guy Mollet
Leader's seat Seine none Pas-de-Calais
Last election 103 seats 96 seats 107 seats
Seats won 150 95 95
Seat change 47 1 12
Popular vote 5,514,403 3,259,782 3,247,431
Percentage 25.36% 14.99% 14.93%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Pierre Mendès France (Radical),
René Pleven (UDSR)
Pierre Poujade
Party MRP Radical-UDSR UFF
Leader's seat Eure (Mendès France),
Côtes-du-Nord (Pleven)
Last election 95 seats N/A (split from Rally of the Republican Lefts) New party
Seats won 83 77 52
Seat change 12 N/A 52
Popular vote 2,366,321 2,389,163 2,744,562
Percentage 10.88% 10.99% 12.62%

PM before election

Edgar Faure

Elected PM

Guy Mollet

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The previous legislative elections in 1951 had been won by the Third Force, a coalition of center-left and center-right parties, but it was divided about denominational schools question and, when faced with the colonial problem, the governments had gradually moved towards the right. A part of the Rally of the French People (RPF), the Gaullist party, joined the majority in opposing the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who then retired.

The defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 caused a political crisis.[2] The Radical Pierre Mendès-France became leader of the cabinet and ended the First Indochina War. He also began the process of independence for Morocco and Tunisia, but from November 1954 on, France was confronted by the Algerian War. In February 1955, Mendès-France was replaced, at the head of the cabinet, by his rival in the Radical Party, Edgar Faure. This one led a more repressive policy in Algeria.

The far-right, led by Pierre Poujade, re-appeared at about the same time. He was a critic of "fiscalism", and leader of a shopkeepers and craftsmen's movement. Many voters seemed tired of the political system's numerous ministerial crises, and he had much support in the rural areas, which were in decline.

The anticipated legislative elections took place when Faure was defeated by the National Assembly. Even though the French Communist Party re-emerged as the country's most popular party (for the last time in its history), it did not join the government. A coalition was formed behind Mendès-France and advocated a peaceful resolution of the Algerian conflict. This Republican Front was composed of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO, socialist party) of Guy Mollet, the Radical Party of Pierre Mendès-France, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance of François Mitterrand and the National Centre of Social Republicans of Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Faure was excluded from the Radical Party – in response he transformed the Rally of the Republican Lefts (which had been abandoned by those groups which had now joined the Republican Front) into a party that he led, and he campaigned with the center-right parties. The French Communist Party remained the largest party and the Republican Front obtained a relative majority in order to end the Algerian War.

The Poujadists won representation in Parliament, and were considered by the press to hold the balance of power. Media reception was mixed, with the result welcomed by communist supporters and condemned by papers such as The Times and the French Le Figaro.[3]

The coalition cabinet was led by the Socialist leader Guy Mollet.[2] At the beginning he was also supported by the Communists, but pressure from the pieds-noir in Algeria incited him into leading a very repressive policy against the Algerian nationalists. This policy was criticized by Vice-Prime Minister Mendès-France and other members of the cabinet, who resigned, thus splitting the Republican Front. Mollet and his successors floundered in the conflict until May 1958.


Parties and coalitions Abbr. Votes % Seats +/- %
National Centre of Independents and Peasants (Centre national des indépendants et paysans) CNIP 3,259,782 15.30 95 +1.66
Popular Republican Movement (Mouvement républicain populaire) MRP 2,366,321 11.11 83 -1.49
Rally of Left Republicans (Rassemblement des gauches républicaines) RGR 838,321 3.94 14 -6.23
National Center of Social Republicans outside Republican Front(Centre national des républicains sociaux) CNRS 585,764 2.75 22 -17.98
Total "Centre-Right" 7,050,188 33.10 214
French Section of the Workers' International (Section française de l'Internationale ouvrière) SFIO 3,247,431 15.25 95 -0.14
Radical Party (Parti radical) and Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (Union démocratique et socialiste de la Résistance) PR/UDSR 2,389,163 11.22 77 +1.05
National Centre of Social Republicans (Centre national des républicains sociaux) CNRS 256,587 1.20 0 -20.73
Total "Republican Front" 5,893,181 27.67 172
French Communist Party (Parti communiste français) PCF 5,514,403 25.89 150 -0.38
Union and French Fraternity (Union et fraternité française) UFF 2,744,562 12.88 52 +12.88
Miscellaneous 98,600 0.46 7
Total 21,300,934 100 595
Abstention: 17.2%
Popular vote
Radical Party-UDSR-RGR


  1. Williams, Philip M. (1970). French Politicians and Elections 1951-1969. CUP Archive. ISBN 9780521096089.
  2. Shields, James (2007). The Extreme Right in France: From Pétain to Le Pen. Routledge. ISBN 9781134861118.
  3. AAP/Reuters (5 January 1956). "Shade Of Hitler Seen In French Election Vote". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). Retrieved 20 April 2014.
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