The Edgar Faure government and the early elections of January 2, 1956. – After several attempts, it fell to another radical, Edgar Faure, to form a coalition government with the MRP, the social republicans and the independents, with Pinay as foreign minister. Despite the heated rivalry between Faure and Mendès-France, the former strove to continue the work of the latter, albeit bringing it back into the “system”. He thus succeeded in having the Paris agreements ratified by the Council of the Republic (March 28), and the conventions that consecrated the practical independence of Tunisia (National Assembly, July 8; Council of the Republic, August 3). French troops were withdrawn from Fezzan (2 December).
Meanwhile, terrorism in Morocco and Algeria became more and more bloody. Edgar Faure decided to send reinforcements in the latter, but he proposed to resolve the Moroccan problem diplomatically, recalling Sultan Ben Youssef and promising independence (November 6). This caused the defection of the republican-social ministers, and then Faure decided to call early elections (December 2). Mendès-France, who in the meantime had become first vice-president of the radical party (president Édouard Herriot), and who, like the radical ministers, was against the dissolution of the chambers, had Faure expelled from the party.
According to militarynous, the elections took place on January 2, 1956 with the system of “alliances”: but the break between the SFIO and the MRP, and the split between the radical socialists and the RGR (which remained loyal to Faure), limited its use. Socialists, Mendesi radicals and UDSR, formed the so-called Front Républicain. On the right arose a movement of the “indifferent” type, the Union de défense des commerçants et des artisans, founded by Pierre Poujade, which enjoyed rapid and illusory fortune. Algeria was the main theme of the election campaign. Through Mendès-France, the Republican Front proposed a policy based not on repression but on conciliation.
The results of the elections brought, compared to those of 1953, two important surprises: the collapse of the republican-socialists (ex RPF), who collected just 948,854 votes, losing over three million, and the success of Poujade who obtained it, together with minor allies, 2,451,555. Communists and Socialists each earned about half a million votes. The radicals and allies earned about 800,000 and the moderates 600,000. The MRP with 2,374,921 held its position. The PCF was by far the strongest party: 25.38% of the votes and 151 deputies.
Faure’s purpose of obtaining a stable and secure majority had failed. The strengthening on the far right and the far left of two clearly unconstitutional oppositions worsened the previous situation. The government majority was reduced to a margin of a few votes. And within this very majority of measure, the divisions were deep, even irreconcilable on all basic issues, Algeria, school, the function of the state in the economy, etc. In such conditions it was impossible to govern in the true sense of the word: and the ever more widespread feeling that the Fourth Republic would collapse at the slightest impact authorized all plots and daring.
The socialists in power and the intervention in Egypt. – It fell to the socialist leader Guy Mollet to form a new coalition government, with Mendès-France as minister without portfolio, Mitterand for Justice, and Pinay for Foreign Affairs. The Algerian rebellion began to affect not only the life of the French government but the future of the whole country. On his way to Algiers, Mollet was greeted by a strongly hostile demonstration by the French colonists, following which the new resident gen. G. Catroux (who had taken the place of J. Soustelle) resigned and was replaced by Robert Lacoste. That same evening (February 6) the first Public Health Committee was set up in Algiers, with the aim of keeping Algeria for France even at the cost of overthrowing the regime.
Despite the special powers obtained with an overwhelming majority, the policy of Mollet-Lacoste, based on the trinomial, “pacification, elections, negotiations” did not emerge from a certain contradiction: liberal in the metropolis, he was with the “proconsul” Lacoste authoritarian in Algeria and in practice it proved ineffective. This led to the resignation of the disappointed Mendès-France (23 May), and in reaction to the secession from the radical socialist party of H. Queuille, A. Morice and others (14 October), who founded a new radical dissident party, more conservative and in favor of a “French” solution in Algeria.
The Mollet government soon ended in an impasse. To tame the rebellion soldiers and weapons were needed: the socialist base opposed the calls (which nevertheless were repeatedly made) and demanded that we proceed rather along the path of costly social reforms; the right, on the other hand, while insisting that repression be carried out in Algeria with the utmost force, resisted the imposition of new taxes. Finally, some secret attempts at negotiations with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) stalled in the face of the latter’s request for immediate independence.