French Elections, Put Simply

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By Campaign Agent William Fawcett

In spite of the unexpected declaration from the British government of a snap election in June, there is one very important election to take place beforehand, which could greatly affect Brexit negotiations and the future of Europe: the French presidential election. The first round takes place on Sunday 23 April followed up by the decisive second round of voting falling on the 7 May. The system ensures that the winner always receives a majority, but how does it all work?

The two-round voting system

Unlike our parliamentary system in the UK, France is slightly different. The French government is a semi-presidential system, meaning that there is both a President and a Prime Minister. This can, of course, seem confusing, and party politics often plays a big part in the French government. However, through complex arrangements of checks and balances between the two leaders, France has uniquely succeeded in delivering an efficient government with this system.

Whilst the parliamentary elections take place later in June this year, the much more influential presidential election comes first (the President picks the Prime Minister after all elections have taken place). With 11 candidates all vowing to become the country’s next leader via two rounds of voting, you understandably could be wondering how it works. However, it’s actually very simple.

In the first round, French voters have a choice of one candidate to choose from, and that’s it. After a full count of the votes, all but two of the candidates are eliminated based on a number of votes each received, with the two candidates receiving the first and second highest number of votes proceeding to the second round: called run-off voting.

Unless one candidate receives an overwhelming majority (50%+ of the vote) in the first round, the two most popular candidates go to a second round to decide who becomes President. Like the first round, French voters go to polls but this time decide on just one of the two candidates they would prefer, with the candidate receiving the majority of the vote becoming France’s next President. This round usually reveals a decisive victory for the winner, especially when the first round was tightly contested.

What next?

After the parliamentary elections later this year in June, which decides the make-up of the French National Assembly (our version of the House of Commons), the new President will appoint the Prime Minister based on these results. Previously there have been times where a different party to that of the President has attained a majority in parliament (Jacques Chirac and François Mitterand), known as cohabitation, but most of the time consistent public opinion will ensure that the two premiers derive from the same party.

Image rights: Rémi Noyon @ Flickr

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