Facts about France: the elections and the powers
France is a representative democracy. Public officials in the legislative and executive branches are either elected by the citizens (directly or indirectly) or appointed by elected officials. Referendums may also be called to consult the French citizenry directly on a particular question, especially one which concerns amendment to the Constitution.
France elects on its national level a head of state – the President – and a legislature. Any French, whether by descent or by naturalization, whether born on French territory or elsewhere, can be a candidate and an elector.
The president is elected for a five-year term (previously, seven years), directly by the citizens. The next election will take place in 2017. The first round of the vote will be held on April 23, with the run-off between the top two candidates, if no candidate gets the majority (50% of the votes+1), on May 7.
The Parliament (Parlement) has two chambers.
The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) has 577 members, elected for a five-year term in single seat-constituencies directly by the citizens. The next elections will take place in 2017 after the presidential election.
The Senate (Sénat) has 348 members, 328 of which are elected for six-year terms by an electoral college consisting of elected representatives from each department, 8 of which are elected from other dependencies, and 12 of which are elected by the French Assembly of French Citizens Abroad (Assemblée des Français de l’étranger).
The National Assembly has the main power. Bills are discussed in both assemblies but if they disagree, the National Assembly wins in most of the cases, including the budget.
Elections are conducted according to rules set in the Constitution of France, organic laws (lois organiques), and the electoral code.
Elections are always held on Sundays in France. The campaigns end at midnight the Friday before the election; then, on election Sunday, by law, no polls can be published, no electoral publication and broadcasts can be made. The voting stations open at 8 am and close at 6 pm in small towns or at 8 pm in cities, depending on prefectoral decisions. By law, publication of results or estimates is prohibited prior to that time.
The first estimate of the results are thus known at Sunday, 8pm, Paris time.
With the exception of senatorial election, for which there is an electoral college, the voters are French citizens over the age of 18 registered on the electoral rolls. For municipal and European elections, citizens aged 18 or older of other European Union countries may decide to vote in France. Registration is not compulsory, but the absence of registration precludes the possibility of voting. Currently, all youths reaching the age of 18 are automatically registered.
Citizens may register either in their place of residence or in a place where they have been on the roll of taxpayers for local taxes for at least 5 years. A citizen may not be legally registered in more than one place. Citizens living abroad may register at the consulate responsible for the region in which they live.
Only citizens legally registered as voters can run for public office.
There are exceptions to the above rules. Convicted criminals may be deprived of their civic rights, which include the right to vote, for a certain period of time depending on the crime. In particular, elected officials who have abused public funds may be deprived of the right to run for national public office for as long as 10 years. Voting by proxy is possible when the citizen cannot easily come to vote (reasons include: health problems, the citizen does not live in the voting constituency, he or she is away for work or vacations, he or she is jailed yet has not been sentenced and deprived of civic rights etc.). The citizen designates a proxy, who must be a voter from the same commune. The designation of the proxy must be made before a legally capable witness: a judge, a judicial clerk, or an officier of judicial police, or, outside France, before an ambassador or consul. In the case of handicapped or severely ill people, an officer of judicial police or delegate thereof can be sent to the home of the citizen to witness the designation. The procedure is meant to avoid pressures on voters.
In all elections where there is a single official to be elected for a given area, including the two major national elections (the election of the President of the Republic and the election of the members of the National Assembly), two-round runoff voting is used.
For elections to the European Parliament and some local elections, proportional voting is used.
It is a new practice which is not regulated by the Constitution or the national laws but has been decided by the main parties, the socialist party at first in 2012 when Mr François Hollande won that primary and the Presidential election as the only candidate from the socialist party; this year, the center and right wing have decided to organize a primary and its first runoff takes place from the 18th to 20th November, with 7 candidates.
A primary is scheduled for the left wing (Socialist party and 3 ecologist groups) on the 22th and 29th January.
Respective powers of the President and the Government
According to the Constitution of the Vth Republic adopted in 1958 and amended many times since, the President is in charge of the essential responsibilities whereas the Prime Minister implements his orientations. Only the Prime minister is responsible before the National Assembly, so the President chooses a politician within the majority. When the majority has a different political orientation from the President, it creates a situation, which is called « cohabitation » where the President has to compromise with that majority. It already happened 3 times when the terms of the President (7 years) and of the National Assembly (5 years) were different, which is the main reason why the term of the President has been reduced to 5 years, so both elections, President and National Assembly, can take place in the same period so the electors can send a majority of the same orientation as the freshly elected President. The next National Assembly election will take place in 2017, right after the election of the President, on 11th and 18th June.