France: Outsider vs. outsider?

The rise of Emmanuel Macron in polls for the French election has been impressive.

France is likely to get a president who is an “outsider”. But not the ultra-nationalist norm-trashing outsider. France has a sensible electoral system for choosing presidents that will prevent such a disastrous travesty of democracy–unlike the United States.

Sometimes the news media gloss over the important detail of the runoff. For instance, although a CNBC story mentions that there are two rounds of voting for president, it still gives a false, context-free impression: That Marine Le Pen’s recent decline in the polls, relative to Macron, means that her chances of becoming president are “slipping”.

No, there was never a realistic threat of her winning, because of that second round. A French president must win over half the votes. Unlike the US, where you don’t even need the highest vote total.

It seems almost certain now that the top two will be Le Pen and Macron. There is even some chance that Macron will win the first-round plurality (aided by the recent withdrawal of Francoios Bayrou from the race), although it does not matter which is first and which is second.

Unless Francois Fillon recovers–which seems unlikely–neither of the mainstays of the established French party system, the Republicans (as the main center-right force now calls itself) nor the Socialists, will be in the runoff.

The candidate of the incumbent Socialist party, Benoit Hamon, has almost no chance of making it. The recent backing of Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace director who had been running, is hardly going to do the trick. And he has apparently failed to make a deal with the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. (The combined support of these two maybe would be enough to squeak into the top two–if Hamon did not bleed support by linking up with Mélenchon, as almost surely would be the case.)

Thus the contest will be between two “outsiders”, by which I mean candidates having no ties to major parties represented in the National Assembly. Of course, Le Pen has a party, the Front National, that gets substantial votes, but is unable to win many districts under the two-round (majority-plurality) assembly electoral system.

Macron, on the other hand, has no existing party–just a “movement”, En Marche! With assembly elections coming up very soon after the presidential elections, “he is recruiting candidates from all backgrounds to stand at parliamentary elections in June” (Economist article, second link above).

We normally expect a large boost for the president’s party when elections are held very early in the term–a honeymoon election. He has to make a party fast, if he is to take advantage.

Cue the anguish, France 2015 edition

In regional elections in France, the National Front has made “big gains”, maybe even a plurality of nationwide votes. This should produce lots of anguished commentary in the coming hours.

But relax. With around 30% of the vote, the FN is still nowhere near threatening to win the presidency or the national assembly when both next come up in 2017.

The FN was expected to do well, even before the terrorist attack in Paris just over three weeks ago. I am somewhat surprised that President Hollande’s Socialists did so poorly–apparently third place, on 22.7%. I might have expected more “rally round the tricolor” effect. But I don’t think we should wring our hands too much over 30% in regional elections for the FN.

French MMM?

From the thread on Russia, it seems there is discussion of adding (or should I say grafting) a small list tier on to the French two-round system for National Assembly elections.

In that thread, DC says:

The French are planning to add a national PR tier (15% of the seats in the lower house of parliament). This appears to be parallel rather than compensatory, with two ballots. However it is constantly referred to as the “German model”, which demonstrates journalistic ignorance about PR is nor confined to Anglo-Saxon countries.

Vasi adds:

The French PR tier is supposed to help “inclusivity”. Currently small parties (that don’t make a deal with a large party) can be completely shut out of national politics. Rather than alienate those voters who never see their interests represented in parliament, the French state would rather coopt them by allowing them some representation, but not very much. It appears that completely revamping the electoral method was outside the mandate of the commission in any case, so any reforms were bound to be minimal.

Should the proposal be implemented, the most meaningful effect will almost certainly be the Front National gaining a dozen or two seats in parliament. Will that increase their legitimacy and power? Force them to compromise? It’s hard to know!

DC again:

I think the point of it is that the PS and the UMP will no longer be obliged (or at least will be less obliged) to court smaller parties at district level.

So called “useful voting” will probably see lots of French voters split their ballot between the district and PR levels, as we saw in Japan, thus a small party seeking representation will not waste a lot of resources at local level unless they have a solid existing base (the PCF, or the PRG, for example).

Any meaningful fair representation will see the FN in parliament-its basically unavoidable. I’m sure a large part of the reason the PR component of this reform is so niggardly is an attempt to avoid a situation where the FN would systematically be the third or fourth party, potentially holding the balance of power.

It could be worse-they could have tried to impose the awful system for regional elections (two-round list PR with “winners” bonus) at a a national level, which was apparently a proposal at one point.

Thanks for the “pre-planting” discussion!

The French experience with voting

If you like elections–and you do, if you are reading this, unless you are here for the fruit, of course–DO NOT MISS Rici’s excellent discussion of what voting is like in France.

I thought I knew more than the average election-watcher who has never visited France during an election about how France votes, but Rici has all sorts of fascinating observations about things I had no idea of.

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.)

Serbs show French how premier-presidentialism works

Today voters in Serbia voted in a runoff election for the country’s presidency; legislative elections were held concurrent with the first round on 6 May. Meanwhile, France is in the interim period between presidential and legislative elections. What difference does this make?

France has long been seen as the model of semi-presidential government (notwithstanding that there actually are older examples). Specifically, it is of the premier-presidential subtype, which is to say that the president actually has very limited powers over government formation and policy-making, unless he leads a party or alliance of parties with a majority in the parliament. Under the premier-presidential subtype, the premier and cabinet are responsible to the parliamentary majority, but not to the president. Nonetheless, when the president is the acknowledged head of the legislative majority, he can be as unchecked in practice as any executive leader in any democracy.

The Serbian constitution, is unambiguously premier-presidential. Perhaps the presidency is very slightly less powerful, but the basic configuration of powers is similar to that of France.

So let’s compare the two countries, at this very moment, in terms of the process of government formation. In a premier-presidential system, “government formation” typically means the president initiates the appointment of a premier, but only upon taking account of the balance of forces in the parliament, which must approve his selection (and, solely, has the constitutional power to remove it subsequently).

In Serbia, the first round of the presidential election produced a close result, which was not decisive. Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party won the plurality, but only around a quarter of the valid votes. Close behind him was Tomislav Nikolic of the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party. In third place, but with only around 14%, was Ivica Dacic, of the Socialist Party of Serbia. (No other candidate had even 7.5%.)

This outcome made Dacic, the strongest of the candidates not qualifying for the runoff, potentially influential. To say “kingmaker” would be an overstatement, given that even if he could deliver his support as a bloc, neither candidate would reach 40%. Still, that did not stop some stories following the first round from suggesting Dacic would be the kingmaker.

Dacic tried, by announcing an alliance with Tadic, amid speculation that Dacic would become premier. Legislative elections were held at the same time as the first round, and they gave the alliance led by Tadic, called Choice for a Better Life, 67 seats. Nikolic’s alliance, Let’s Get Serbia Moving, won 73 seats. Dacic’s Socialists won 44 seats. With an assembly size of 250, a coalition led by Tadic and Dacic could combine for 111 seats–not enough for a majority, but with 44.4% of the seats, a strong base from which to build a government. Only one small detail: this coalition had to succeed in electing Tadic to the presidency first.

The voters did not cooperate, however, as Nikolic has won today’s runoff. Now Nikolic will need to begin negotiations to put together a cabinet that can command a majority in parliament.

This strikes me as more or less how premier-presidentialism is supposed to work. Parliamentary elections determine the parameters of coalition possibilities, given that–as in a parliamentary democracy–the cabinet must have the confidence of the parliamentary majority. Yet when there is no electorally based majority, it falls not to a third party in parliament, but to the voters, acting through their agent in the presidency, to serve as the real kingmaker.

Now contrast this process just sketched with that in France now. The presidential election is concluded, but parliamentary elections are looming in June. However, the newly inaugurated President, Francois Hollande, has already appointed his cabinet. Meanwhile, Hollande’s Socialists and the allies of the presidential candidate who finished fourth, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front, are divvying up the districts in which they will present joint candidacies, in order to maximize the seats of the broad left. In effect, Hollande (and Melenchon) are asking voters to ratify decisions they have taken since Hollande was voted into the presidency.

Events in France seem less in the spirit of premier-presidentialism, because they lend a far more “presidentialized” air to the whole process by permitting the appointment of the next government before the election of the parliament to which it is (formally) accountable.

The critical difference here is in the electoral cycle, with Serbia having its parliamentary elections concurrent with the first round of the presidential contest, whereas France, since 2002, has been employing a “honeymoon” cycle with parliamentary elections following close on the heels of the presidential runoff. When combined with the two-round majority-plurality system by which France elects its National Assembly, the honeymoon elections will tend to create a very large president-supporting majority, rather than a legislature that serves as a check on the president through coalition politics.

While both France and Serbia are clearly premier-presidential systems, the Serbian electoral cycle is much more in the spirit of the hybrid process of government formation that this subtype of constitutional form is supposed to generate.

French presidential runoff, 2012

Socialist presidential candidate Hollande has won the presidency of France, with 51.9%. That’s closer than expected, but a majority is a majority.

It is only the second time in the Fifth Republic (i.e. since direct elections began in 1965) that power has shifted from the right to the left, and also only the second time an incumbent has been defeated in a reelection bid.

One might conclude that the only way the Socialists can win is for voters to be tired of the incumbent conservative. Or when they have a candidate named Francois.

Now on quickly to the legislative elections. As happened in 1981, in the honeymoon elections following Mitterrand’s win, I would expect a large Socialist majority and premier, plus a broad left cabinet, to result.