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1958: Easy victory for de Gaulle

General Charles de Gaulle has been elected President of France with an overwhelming majority.

At 1715 this afternoon President Rene Coty telephoned his congratulations to General de Gaulle at his country home at Colombey-les-Deux Eglises.

At 2300 the unofficial results were announced. General de Gaulle had polled 77.5% for metropolitan France, 81.45% for overseas departments and 97.04% for the States of the French Community.

Under the new constitution it means he becomes the first leader of the Fifth Republic with US-style presidential powers.

Economic Crisis

It is a remarkable comeback for a man who led the victory parade into Paris in 1944 but resigned in a disagreement over the constitution for the Fourth Republic and in 1953 announced his retirement from politics.

With France facing a huge economic crisis and a looming civil war in Algeria, he was recalled as prime minister six months ago.

He was given wide powers to draw up a new constitution, establishing a more powerful presidency, which was given the overwhelming endorsement of the public in September's referendum.

Today is the first time the electoral college, as laid down by the new constitution, has voted.

It includes members of parliament, members of county and municipal councils, mayors of all villages and the members of local assemblies from overseas territories.

The biggest challenge facing the General is Algeria. Tonight he has made public the contents of a letter he has written to the new delegate-general of the government in Algeria.

In it he speaks of pacifying, administering and transforming Algeria, but he avoids potentially contentious words like integration.

He also says there will be a clampdown on policing in Algeria following claims officers have been using repressive measures.

General de Gaulle will formally take over as president on 8 January.

His first task will be the appointment of a new prime minister. Michael Debre is believed to be the most likely choice.

In Context
General de Gaulle ended the Algeria War of Independence through the Evian Agreements though he was lucky to survive several assassination attempts in the process.

He sought to inspire and unite the French public with a patriotic and independent foreign policy in which he aspired for French leadership in Europe.

He insisted on the development of a nuclear deterrent which at the time was considered essential for superpower status.

He was re-elected in 1965 but left severely shaken by the student revolt of May 1968.

On 28 April 1969 he resigned after his proposed changes to the constitution were rejected by the electorate.

General de Gaulle retired to his country retreat at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, in north-east France, to write his memoirs. He died from a heart attack on 9 November 1970.


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