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Proportional representation, with one ballot only, is the rule for European elections, every five years. A two-ballot first-past-the-post system involving male/female paired candidates instead of single candidates applies for county constituencies, every six years.

Even more byzantine regulations apply to many ballots as well. In most cases, including the presidential and parliamentary elections, only the first ballot’s frontrunners are allowed to run in the second ballot. And male/female quotas, or parité, as the French have it, apply to most elections, with variable stringency, the gender-based pairing provisions of the county elections being only the oddest and most extreme example.

It is puzzling that the French, who see cartésianisme — the logical, rational philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650) — as their premium intellectual heritage, and who routinely take pride in the near-geometric redrawing of their social system under the Revolution of 1789, let themselves be drawn into such a mess. But what really matters is the practical consequences.

One unavoidable outcome is that political strategists cannot just focus, within such a framework, on clear-cut campaigns. Consider, for instance, the keystone of French politics: the presidential election. Any citizen may run on the first ballot, provided he or she is endorsed by at least 500 elected officials. But he or she needs an absolute majority (50 per cent of the total vote plus one vote at least) to be elected, something that has never happened. A second ballot thus takes place in which only two candidates are allowed: the two  who emerged as the front runners in the first ballot. Every serious presidential candidate must be prepared to switch instantly from a very aggressive campaign on the first ballot, the best way to win one of the two first slots, to a much more inclusive campaign on the second ballot, in order to attract a larger audience.

Moreover, a serious candidate must also keep in mind the ensuing parliamentary elections. Under the 1958 constitution, France is not a presidential republic, as most people think it is, but rather an uneasy combination of presidential rule and Westminster-style democracy. While the French president is extremely powerful with a supportive National Assembly and by implication a loyal prime minister, he is almost powerless when faced with a hostile Assembly and by implication a hostile prime minister. Such “cohabitation” regimes occured twice under François Mitterrand, a socialist president, and once under Jacques Chirac, a conservative. In all three instances, the French republican monarchy was turned into a diarchy of sorts. As a result, important decisions had to be postponed or rescinded.

Another negative outcome of French electoral complexity is that far-Right, far-Left or even centrist voters, realise that while they have quite a say in proportional ballots, they are deprived of almost any representation in first-past-the-post ballots. So they see the retention of the latter at presidential and parliamentary levels as a mere sleight of hand intended to safeguard the mainstream parties’ control over the country.

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April 15th, 2017
2:04 AM
Open primaries followed by runoff elections between the top two vote-getters is pretty common in the USA. It does work.

Empress Trudy
April 14th, 2017
1:04 PM
There is pretty obviously no more political space within which Jews can navigate in France anymore. Just as they started flocking to Le Pen she let slip the mask that the new FN is little different than the old one. The socialists don't want them, the Muslims want them dead, and everyone else on the spectrum is playing for time until the whole country implodes.

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