Alain Poher

(b. 1909)

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(b. Ablon-sur-Seine, 17 Apr. 1909; d. Paris, 9 Dec. 1996)

French; President of the Senate 1968–92, Presidential candidate 1969 Born in the Paris region, Poher studied engineering and law and entered politics after the Second World War as a supporter of the Christian Democratic movement and in particular of Robert Schuman, the architect of France's participation in the European Coal and Steel Community. He held a number of minor posts in the governments of the Fourth Republic but devoted most of his career to the causes of the French Senate and European integration. A fixture in the Senate from 1952, he also sat in the European Parliament and was its President from 1966 to 1969. His unthreatening anti-Gaullism was the reason for his election as Senate President in 1968 after the resignation of his predecessor, who had violently opposed de Gaulle's exercise of power. His new position as second person in the state explains the one important intervention in French politics for which Poher is remembered. He opposed the 1969 referendum proposal to reform the Senate, and after its defeat and the resignation of de Gaulle, found himself acting President of the Republic. He moved into the Élysée Palace, made some changes in the presidential staff, and chaired a series of tense meetings of the Gaullist dominated Council of Ministers. The change in presidential style was dramatic and Poher's comfortable ordinariness made an initial appeal to a public grown weary of de Gaulle's authoritarianism. Urged on by party leaders of the centre and left, who saw him as a means of subverting Fifth Republic presidentialism, he decided to stand for the presidency against the obvious candidate Pompidou. After initial successes, however, his campaign ran into the ground. The fragmented nature of his supporters, who were united only in their hostility to Gaullism, meant that he lacked a coherent programme. He failed to win the support of the most influential non-Gaullist Conservative Giscard d'Estaing (who correctly regarded Pompidou as a more substantial figure) and of others who had no desire to return to the shambolic politics of the Fourth Republic. Although the 23 per cent of the vote Poher gained in the first round enabled him to go forward to the second, he was easily defeated by Pompidou and returned to his Senate presidency, which he held until 1992. When Pompidou died in 1974, he was once again acting President, but this time made no attempt to make the Élysée Palace his permanent residence. He was much better suited to the charms of regime dignitary than to the rigours of political leadership.

Subjects: Politics.

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