by Peter Franklin
Monday, 20
June 2022
Debate
15:18

France has the worst electoral system in the world

It is outdated and unreliable
by Peter Franklin
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s anti-establishment LFI party came second. Credit: Getty

Yesterday, the French voted in the second and final round of the legislative election — and the result was even worse for Emmanuel Macron than the polls were predicting.

His centrist “Together” coalition was expected to lose ground and perhaps its majority in the National Assembly. In the event, they were hammered, losing around a hundred seats.

Furthermore, the electoral system, which is meant to keep extremists out, has failed. The Left-wing NUPES coalition, which is dominated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s anti-establishment LFI party, came second. In a surprisingly strong third place is Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. In 2017, her party won just eight seats, this time round it is 89 — easily the best result for the far Right in the history of the Fifth Republic.

So overall, it’s a shocker — especially for Macron. As I predicted last week, he will have to do a deal with the much diminished conservatives. The combined forces of the Macronistes and the centre-Right should have a slim majority (which in the 577 seat National Assembly starts at 289), but the stability of any deal would depend on the cooperation of the most Right-wing conservatives, who lean closer to Le Pen than to Macron.

Though the French president is endowed with a wide range of executive powers, he still needs a prime minister to head up the day-to-day functions of government. Unfortunately for him, the PM has to be approved by the Assembly. If the opposition wins a majority of seats then it can impose its own candidate — as happened during the three periods of “cohabitation” between 1986 and 2002.

Of course the difference now is that no party has a majority in the National Assembly. It is divided between four mutually antagonistic blocks. Without a stitch-up between Macron and the conservatives — i.e. the two big losers of the election — chaos beckons.

In short, as well being an almighty shock, this outcome is an almighty mess. So how on Earth did it happen? For one, the French electoral system has a number of idiosyncrasies, which lend themselves to precisely this outcome. The basic problem is that the two-round system creates a series of contests in which two parties go through to the final round, leaving the supporters of every other party with nothing to do except decide which of the two finalists they most want to vote against.

Judging from the results, it would appear that in the 102 contests that pitched a Le Pen candidate against a Macron candidate, a lot of Left-wing voters decided to vote against Macron. Clearly, denying the president his majority was considered more important than maintaining the cordon sanitaire around the far-Right.

It’s quite possible that France has the world’s worst electoral system. Because of the split between the presidential and legislative contests, each of which involve two rounds, French voters have to turn out four times to get a new government. And if that wasn’t enough to put everyone in a bad mood, the system effectively enforces the negative practice of tactical voting.

All this was designed for an era when politics was dominated by the mainstream parties of the centre-Left and centre-Right. But now, in an era where populists run rampant and a personality cult president rules from the centre, just about anything can happen. And yesterday it did.

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Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
3 months ago

As an American voter I would happily show up in person and stand in-line 4 times per election to have:
-immediate unquestionable election results
-a real choice and not just an opportunity to select the least objectionable R or D candidate.

Pierre Henri
Pierre Henri
3 months ago

One should be careful not to blame the electoral system for Mr Macron’s casual approach to politics.
As the author says, “all this was designed for an era when politics was dominated by the mainstream parties of the centre-Left and centre-Right”. And the person who destroyed the mainstream parties is no one else than Mr Macron.
“La République en Marche” (LREM) is a political label, but it is no real political party with a set of core beliefs, motivated party activists, or an internal democracy. If the LREM members are dissatisfied with Mr Macron’s performance, they have no way to remove him, as the Conservative Party members plan to do if Boris Johnson further disappoints them.
Destroying the mainsteam parties would have been fine if they had been replaced by something more substantial than LREM.
Mr Macron is a “pompier pyromane” (arsonist fireman) : he pitched himself as the man who would save the country from the chaos he himself created. That served him well for the presidential election, a little less for the legislative one.

Virginia Teach
Virginia Teach
3 months ago

As I understand it, the electoral system successfully filled all 577 seats, and therefore didn’t “fail” in any sense besides not delivering the result Macron and his supporters wanted.

Not that the two-round system isn’t cumbersome, but what system would Mr Franklin propose instead? Of the two most obvious alternatives, Macron probably wouldn’t have got a majority under British-style single-round plurality voting (as his party didn’t place first in anywhere near half the seats in the first round), and definitely wouldn’t have got one under proportional representation. Perhaps the appallingly unfair system Italy used for a while, in which the party that won a plurality of seats automatically got a massive seat bonus to ensure a majority?

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 months ago

It’s quite possible that France has the world’s worst electoral system.

Based on the author`s knowledge of 5 or 6 countries….

M. M.
M. M.
3 months ago

Peter Franklin wrote, “It’s quite possible that France has the world’s worst electoral system. Because of the split between the presidential and legislative contests, each of which involve two rounds, French voters have to turn out four times to get a new government.”

The worst aspect of the French electoral system is its ethnic or racial opaqueness. A 1978 law created this opaqueness by specifically banning the collection of ethnic or racial statistics. In other words, exit polls that illustrate how various demographic groups (e.g., Middle Easterners) voted do not exist.

This opaqueness hides the impact of various immigrant groups (and their descendants) on French society, including specifically its electoral outcomes.

The best that we can do is to extrapolate from the trends in the United States, which will become a Hispanic nation (in which Hispanic culture dominates and Western culture is rejected by the majority) by 2040 due to open borders. The behavior and status of (North) Africans and Middle Easterners in France most closely resemble the behavior and status of Africans and Hispanics in the United States. The latter two groups consistently vote as a bloc to get preferential treatment (via, typically, affirmative action). Their voting pattern has altered the character of the United States. For example, California is effectively a one-party state (controlled by the Democratic Party) due to the Hispanic vote.

Consequently, Middle Easterners and Africans in France likely also vote as a bloc and gave a majority of their votes to the candidates of the NUPES coalition (lead by Jean-Luc Mélenchon) in the recent parliamentary election. Without their votes, the National Rally of Marie Le Pen would have gained even more seats in the legislature, thus strengthening the ability of her party to protect French culture by tightening laws on immigration.

The experience in the United States is an omen of grave danger for France. Once Middle Easterners and Africans become 20% of the French population, they will have sufficient political power to prevent the closure of the border and will permanently alter the character of France. Imagine a France in which French is no longer the official national language. (In the United States, Hispanic political power prevents establishing English as the official national language.)

Get more info about voting as a bloc.

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett
3 months ago

The World’s worst electoral system, says a writer from England??

David Yetter
David Yetter
3 months ago

I beg to differ. I’m afraid that distinction belongs to us Yanks. The problem not being what’s baked into our Constitution, but the way our parties nominate candidates. If you want evidence, consider our last few Presidential elections, we had Biden v. Trump (and look at Biden’s Presidency), before that Trump v. Clinton (the Democrats picking the one person Trump could clearly beat), then there was Obama, a slick facade over a non-existent record of political accomplishment hiding the ideas of the Chicago hard-left, and the two too-gentlemanly to fight an election opponents the GOP put up against him.