France 2012 legislative election–open thread

[updated below]

While I am between exams and turning in grades, France is between rounds of its legislative elections.

Feel free to discuss, as I read some exams–(not) coincidentally, including questions about the French inter-round campaign.

And here are some interesting links from Le Monde regarding the runoff pairings and “triangular” races (and sometimes some comments by me):

Législatives : 34 triangulaires et quelques accrocs aux consignes (nice map, showing that there were 46 possible 3-way races, but 12 candidates withdrew to create duels. I wonder if the first rate is higher, and the second lower, than usual? I think it is also very interesting, from this story, that some of these cases represent candidates defying their own party leadership. Also interesting are a couple of Front National candidates withdrawing to favor UMP against Socialists.)

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen brouille les équilibres politiques à Carpentras (Fascinating case of potential tacit local cross-district cooperation between PS and FN. But it’s collapsing under its own obvious contradictions).

Le PS et ses alliés obtiendraient la majorité absolue à l’Assemblée (seat projection issued Thursday: PS 284-313, where 289 is a majority; Greens 14-20; Left Front 12-13; other center-left about 16; UMP and allies 192-226; New Centre 14-18; Parti radical valoisien 4-6; MoDem 1-3; FN 0-2).

Droite : trente ans d’hésitations face au FN.

La pression du Front national se fait sentir dans quelques (Example of a district where a third-running UMP candidate’s decision to stay or withdraw could be consequential: “L’autre candidat UMP susceptible de se retirer au profit du FN est Etienne Mourrut, dans la 2e circonscription du Gard. M. Mourrut est arrivé troisième, avec 23,89 % des suffrages, derrière le candidat du FN, Gilbert Collard (34,57 %), talonné par la candidate du PS, Katy Guyot (32,87 %).”)

L’UMP ne fera alliance ni avec la gauche ni avec le FN (about official UMP position of “ni ni”, meaning not supporting either FN or the left in cases where a candidate of each is in the runoff)

La gauche appelle au “désistement républicain” pour faire barrage au FN (“Je demande aux candidats qui sont devancés par un de nos partenaires à appeler à voter pour eux, comme je demande à nos partenaires de faire la même chose, se désister en notre faveur lorsque cela est le cas.”
–Martine Aubry, calling for mutual withdrawals on left ahead of runoffs.)

11 thoughts on “France 2012 legislative election–open thread

  1. Anyone have figures (based on the first-round leading candidates) for what the result would have been if France used FPTP?

  2. JD: I extracted this count from the government elections page.

    Of course, it’s essentially meaningless in the sense that it’s not an FPTP election and people might have voted differently if they knew they only had one chance. Also, the counts are based on the candidates’ political “nuances” (I guess “shade” would be a reasonable translation) which is sometimes a party (SOC, for example, is the Socialist Party), but sometimes just a general description (DVG == divers gauche, ‘miscellaneous left’ which is a grab-bag of microparties and independents.). See the complete spectrum (in French).

    So, using the official spectrum, from left to right:
    FG 9
    SOC 285
    RDG 9
    DVG 15
    VEC 9
    REG 4
    CEN 1
    ALLI 1
    PRV 5
    NCE 15
    UMP 211
    DVD 8
    FN 5

    As I understand it, the socialists (SOC) and the Greens (VEC above although the party name is EELV) are essentially running together, so they would have had an absolute majority, albeit a small one. The RDG (centre-left, despite the name) is also usually part of the coalition, and I suppose several if not all of the leftist microparties and independents would also join in.

    Hope that helps.

  3. I’ve added a bunch of links above to Le Monde stories I have read this week about the inter-round deals, along with some comments.

  4. If I’m reading those news articles correctly, the spectre of a local agreement between the PS and the FN was basically a fantasy with no basis in reality, but plugged for what its worth by a UMP candidate. So what unravelled was not the agreement but the theory that an agreement might take place.

    Of course, it could be that I’m being insufficiently cynical. The other SP candidate seems to be simultaneously criticising the FN candidate running against him for withdrawing and his socialist colleague in the other constituency for not withdrawing. (“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”)

    Clearly, there are more three-way contests than in 2007, when there was exactly one, according to Wikipedia:

    In 2007, only one constituency experienced a triangulaire in the second round (in which Jean Lassalle, a MoDem candidate, was elected).

    Certainly my impression is that 34 is an unusually large number of three-way contests. It should be noted that actually 24 eligible second-round candidates withdrew, not 12: 12 withdrew from three-way contests, and another 12 withdrew from two-way contests (mostly left-left) to allow the first-round winner a clear victory. In Mme. Aubry’s call for the socialist candidate in Vaucluse to withdraw, she also went on to criticise Olivier Falorni for continuing to run against Segolene Royal:

    On ne peut pas etre un candidat de gauche et faire battre une candidate de gauche avec les voix de la droite. [It cannot be that a candidate of the left battles against a candidate of the left using the votes of the right]

    The tweeted support of Falorni by the current consort of the ex-consort of Royal seems to be dominating French election coverage, at least in my part of the world. Quelle feuilleton!

  5. > ” and another 12 withdrew from two-way contests (mostly left-left) to allow the first-round winner a clear victory”

    Do you mean “elected unopposed on the first ballot”, Nestor Kirchner-style, or “a straight fight on the second ballot”, Martin Bell-style?

    My reading of the Fifth Republic’s constitution is that, in presidential elections, if the second-highest candidate stands down between first and second rounds, the right to compete in the tour decisif then devolves upon the third-placed candidate.

    However, I recall reading about a case in the 1970s where the Conseil consitutionelle interpreted the electoral statute to hold that the same rule did not apply for legislative elections. If the runner-up withdrew, and no other candidate had over 15% of the votes (changed since then to 12.5% of all registered voters, but the same principle), then the plurality winner got in unopposed. Has this been amended since?

  6. Tom Round: I meant, elected unopposed on the second ballot. In French legislative elections (whose rules are not set by the French constitution and are significantly different from the presidential electoral rules), a second ballot is held if the first ballot does not result in a definite winner, even if all but one eligible candidate withdraw from the second ballot. This happens with surprising frequency; even more surprising, the turnout in such unopposed second rounds tends to be in the vicinity of 30%, with many voters casting blank ballots, although as far as I know, no matter how many blank ballots are cast, the unopposed candidate will still be declared elected.

    Argentina’s presidential electoral system tries a lot harder than France’s to avoid meaningless second ballots. In the case, of the 2003 election, a second ballot would almost certainly have delivered a massive majority to Kirchner regardless of whether it had been against Menem or Lopez Murphy.

  7. Thanks, rici, The French rules seem very odd. Would make more sense either to skip the unopposed ballot completely (as with Irish presidential elections) or else make it a binding yes/ no referendum (Austria, Russia, etc).

    One claimed advantage of Runoff over AV is in making it easier to elect a Condorcet-preferred candidate. But this depends on the compromise winner reaching 12 or15 percent (legislative) or on one of the top 2 voluntarily standing down (presidential) . Neither seems to happen very often.

  8. Tom: Probably the simplest explanation for why French law does not skip unopposed runoffs is the very tight deadline under which runoffs are conducted. The two rounds are held one week apart, on consecutive Sundays; it will be known on the first Sunday evening (or at worst the following morning) whether a second round is to be held and who is eligible to present themselves to the second round. I believe potential candidates must decide by Tuesday evening; by then, there are only four days left before the vote, so it will be very difficult to cancel.

    In an F&V post on San Francisco we’re told by Californians for Electoral Reform that:

    Eight weeks isn’t enough time to certify the first election and get runoff ballots to military and overseas voters.

    Perhaps France has something to offer, then, since it manages to do all of the above (at least, for overseas voters) in quite a bit less than eight weeks. (To be fair, the overseas votes were advanced a bit, in order to leave a few more days between rounds.)

    So how do they do it? Procedures help, but I think the full answer is a lot more complicated than simple electoral rules; it goes to the whole French political culture. For example, I suspect that the French would not, unlike San Franciscans, complain that voting three times in a year is fatiguing. It’s worth seeing a French poll, at least once, in order to understand how much of a celebration of democratic process it is.

    First, candidates are responsible for printing their own ballots (although the law provides some restrictions on format). At the entrance to the polling station, there is a table with piles of ballots, and also a pile of official envelopes. Voters scoop up an envelope and several ballots (unless they’ve brought a ballot with them, which is allowed — they’re sent out by mail prior to the election, and also distributed by campaign workers), and go to a booth where they put one of the ballots into the envelope (or not: blank votes are also part of the tradition). Finally, they take the envelope to the ballot box, where they identify themselves to the officials, theatrically drop the envelope into the transparent box, and sign the electoral register while the poll official declaims “a vote has been cast!”

    When the polls close, there’s another party during which the ballot boxes are opened and the ballots are counted in public. Anyone can come along to watch and help, and many do.

    It’s not necessary for candidates to print special ballots for the second round — you’re allowed to reuse unused ballots from the first round. So the logistics of the runoff campaign are pretty simple.

    You can also vote by writing the name of your candidate and their alternate on a piece of white paper and using that as a ballot. You have to get both names right, though, which is a bit of a challenge. These days, many minor candidates save themselves the cost of printing ballots by emailing print-it-yourself PDF files to known supporters.

    I gather that this entire ritual is slowly being replaced by voting machines, which is kind of a shame. In any event, it all goes very smoothly and the votes are very easy to count, requiring no assistance from legal counsel or the supreme court.

    This year, at least, citizens living outside of France had the option of voting by internet, by post, or by showing up at their local consular office. Previously these voters had to declare a district, but this time around there are eleven districts specifically for expats. (Latin America, for example, is district 2, which elected a French Colombian Green Party representative.) Turn-out was low — I think just a bit over 20% overall, and around 15% in Latin America, with about half voting by internet — but that’s still quite a few voters.

    Could this be duplicated in California? I don’t know much about the US but from what I’ve seen, I’m sceptical. The barriers are less procedural than cultural; a healthy democratic culture will naturally develop health democratic procedures.

    None of the above speaks to the question of whether a two-round majoritarian system is an appropriate way to elect a legislative assembly, even the French one. France also has PR enthusiasts (and it’s used for some municipal and eurodeputy elections), but the one time it was tried in recent memory for the national assembly (1986), it resulted in the election of thirty-some FN deputies, which was, I believe, not considered a feature. It also created a two-year cohabitation, perhaps the first one in the fifth republic, which lasted only two years. Shortly after the election, the rules were reverted to the two-round system.

    Personally, I can’t see the system working here in Peru: open list proportional representation works as well as anything (i.e. not well) but again the problems are more cultural than procedural. The procedures work pretty well, in fact, although the vote counting is painfully slow. At least, a simple PR system does provide a clear and understandable link between a vote and a result; two-round (and, I suspect, Australian-style preferential balloting) require a lot more sophistication on the part of the electorate. I also think Peru is not well served by ballotage for presidential elections: at some point I need to write something about the Humala I vs. Humala II theory I read in the major newspaper here the other day, but suffice it to say that it was not exactly an advertisement for ballotage although I think the editorialist doesn’t see it the same way I do. But, again, France doesn’t seem to have done too badly with it, so far.

    For a parliament, particularly a parliament of 577 deputies, it’s probably OK if there is an occasional suboptimal district election, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, and as long as there is some counterbalancing benefit. And I rather suspect there is a counter-balance: the system acts to draw extremist into the mainstream, without totally losing their ideological edge. Whether this will eventually happen to the FN, I don’t know: nor do I have any idea what it might mean to draw the FN into the mainstream, but you can see the results with the Left Front (FG), which includes the remnants of the French Communist Party. With half the vote of the FN, (6,9% vs 13,6% on the first round), it ended up with 10 deputies versus two. (The Greens, with even fewer votes, won 17.)

    These victories were the result of the actual functioning of the unwritten law, which I quoted a couple of days ago as articulated by Mme Aubry, that the left does not fight the left with the votes of the right. And, indeed, the right mostly behaves the same way, although possibly with slightly less solidarity. But the right does not consider the FN to be part of its community, and so far the FN is not knocking on the door trying to get in, either. And for that, they pay a heavy electoral price. If that’s is an intentional (or accepted) consequence of the voting system and culture, maybe that’s a totally valid trade-off.

  9. Excellent outline by rici. By way of comparison, last time I voted in local elections here in Queensland, Australia, our mayor was re-elected unopposed (although the single-seat councillor elections were all contested), but there were still posters and signs saying “VOTE PAM PARKER” around the town, and even a stand with that banner set up outside the polling booth. I gather that she was (or her supporters were) favouring certain council candidates over others, but since the whole thing is officially non-partisan it was hard to tell. (Non-partisan elections may work in a small shire where everybody knows each other, but less so in a fast-growng city of 300,000 with a lot of recent immigrants). There was no ballot-paper with her name on it.

  10. I think 9 weeks is the absolute maximum term for a federal election in Australia from dissolution to return of the writ. That includes getting ballots to places like military garrisons in Afghanistan and scientific bases in Antarctica. Somehow US election administrators have persuaded themselves and everyone else that elections are a lot harder than they are.

  11. Pingback: The French experience with voting | Fruits and Votes

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