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POLITICS

Why do French elections normally have two rounds?

When the French choose their next president, they go to the polls not once, but twice. Here's why France has a two-round voting system and what effect that has on the country's elections.

Brigitte Macron leaves a polling booth after voting in a French regional election.
Brigitte Macron leaves a polling booth after voting in a French regional election. We investigate why France uses the two-round majority system for presidential elections. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Most French elections are voted on in a two-round system. 

This means that a range of candidates compete in the premier tour (first round) and voters can choose their favourite.

If one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote then they are the outright winner.

While this sometimes happens in local elections, it’s very rare in presidential elections, so then a second round (deuxième tour) is held, two weeks after the first.

The two highest-scoring candidates from the first round go head-to-head and voters go back to the polls to pick their favourite (or at any rate the one they dislike the least) of the final two.

In the Assemblée nationale, France’s lower parliamentary house, two-round system is used but it differs slightly in that there is no requirement to reach a majority. If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, a second round is held where all candidates that won more than 12.5 percent of the initial vote can compete. After this second round, whoever wins the greatest number of votes gains the seat. 

Only EU parliament and Senate (the upper parliamentary house) elections diverge significantly from the two-round system.

So how did France end up with this system? 

France voted to implement a two-round majority system for presidential elections in a 1962 referendum – the model was applied for the first time in 1965 when Charles de Gaulle was reelected.

Prior to that the French president was generally chosen by the parliament and other elected officials – the exception to this was during the Second Republic when Napoleon II was directly chosen by the electorate (male members of the public) during the 1848 presidential election with 74.2 percent of the vote. 

In the run up to the 1962 referendum, Charles de Gaulle campaigned in favour of having a two-round voting system with a directly-elected president. 

He believed that having a directly elected president would restore grandeur to the role of head-of-state and allow him to consolidate power in the executive. 

Bruno Cautrès, a researcher with the CNRS and Sciences Po said the idea was also practical. 

“In France the idea is that you need two rounds because we have a multi-partisan tradition but also a polarity between the Left and the Right. The first round of the election gives voters the choice of a variety of candidates reflecting a range of viewpoints.

“The second round is about regrouping the electorate around broadly left and rightwing blocs,” he said. 

The idea is that if your favourite candidate has been knocked out at the first round stage, you still get a say in which of the two remaining candidates you would prefer.

Advantages 

Some argue that the two-round majority system carries certain advantages. 

“It is a tradition in France that has never really been put in question,” said Aurélia Troupel, a political scientist at the University of Montpellier. 

In one-round first-past-the-post systems, such as those used in the UK and US, a party can win an election without winning an absolute majority of votes. Two-round systems are considered by some to be more democratic because the winner ultimately has to win the support of more than half of voters.  

“When we look at one-round systems, it seems to be very violent. We have a different political culture,” said Troupel.

Cautrès noted that this electoral system created “greater stability” than France had previously seen under the pre-World War II Fourth Republic. 

Disadvantages

Others are vehemently opposed to the two-round majority system. 

“It is full of disadvantages,” said Rida Laraki, a political scientist and researcher with the CNRS research institute.   

“In France when you have two or three candidates with the same view, sometimes even more than that, it completely splits the vote. Minor candidates with just 1-2 percent of the vote can completely change the result of the election.”

As an example, Laraki points to the 2002 election when during the first round, Jean-Marie Le Pen won the second highest number of votes after Jacques Chirac, who he ultimately lost to in the second round. Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate was less than 1 percent off qualifying for the second round, but his vote was split by other left-wing candidates like Christiane Taubira. 

READ MORE Why the Left in France has declined into electoral irrelevance

He also notes that the two-round majority system can leave voters with an unappealing choice in the second round. 

“If people don’t like the candidates, they can abstain. If we end up with Macron versus Le Pen or Zemmour, these far-right candidates might win because of high abstention rates [among left-wing or centrist voters],” said Laraki. 

In general the second round of voting has a lower turnout than the first, although in theory people can skip round one and vote only in the second round.

Once the first round of polling is done, the candidates who didn’t make it through often endorse one or other of the final two and urge their voters to back them.

In the 2017 presidential election that saw Emmanuel Macron face-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round.

Almost all of his defeated rivals urged their backers to support him as the ‘anyone but Le Pen’ candidate, but only 75 percent of people on the French electoral lists turned up to vote – the lowest level since 1969.

Laraki is one of the co-inventors of a new electoral system called “majority judgement”, which he believes should be implemented in French presidential elections – it is already being used for the upcoming “popular primary” in which a number of left-wing figures are competing to win the backing of voters as a single candidate. 

Within this system, voters are asked to grade each individual candidate. The candidate that has the highest median grade ultimately wins power. 

What are the dates for the upcoming presidential votes? 

The first round of the 2022 presidential election is on Sunday, April 10th. The second will be held on Sunday, April 24th. 

Two rounds of voting for the Assemblée nationale will then be held on June 12th and June 19th, by which point French President Emmanuel Macron will either have been sworn in for a second term or France will have a new leader. 

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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