Under Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic, established 1958, France is governed by a directly-elected President, Head of the Council of Ministers. The President appoints a Prime Minister: in practice someone who reflects the majority in the National Assembly, which has the power to remove the President. The PM in turn appoints a team of ministers, who need not be members of the National Assembly.
Parliament consists of the directly-elected National Assembly and the Senate, with senators elected by electoral colleges in each of the 96 départements (local authorities). Both are primarily monitoring and revising chambers, which rubber-stamp bills from the Council of Ministers. Power primarily lies with the President.
How often do elections happen?
The maximum term for all tiers of government is five years, but the President can call an early election of the National Assembly, as Jacques Chirac did in 1997, resulting in a majority for his opponents, the Socialist Party whose leader, Lionel Jospin, became Prime Minister. Chirac himself had been socialist François Mitterand’s Prime Minister for two years. Such enforced cross-party working is known as “cohabitation”.
Since 1958, the French electoral system has been Second Ballot for both the President and the National Assembly, apart from one PR election in 1985, producing a majority which abolished that PR reform. However, Regional elections are by party list PR. Emmanuel Macron made a campaign promise in 2017 to introduce a “dose” of PR at national level, and his first Prime Minister, Edouard Phillippe, proposed 15% PR for the National Assembly. It is felt this could reduce dissatisfaction with politics, and the debate continues.
When do elections take place?
There is an interval between the first and second votes in the current system. Voting takes place on Sundays, and the dates for the next elections are as follows:
- President 10 April and 24 April 2022
- National Assembly 12 June and 19 June 2022
The state of the parties
Already, at least 39 hopefuls have declared their candidature, not yet including President Macron. Ten of these are independents, but the proliferation of political parties and “groupuscules” is reminiscent of pre-Gaullist times when the National Assembly was elected by PR. This means that in the long run the electoral reform of 1958 has failed to produce the greater stability claimed.
François Mitterand started uniting the left in the late 1960s and served as President from 1981 to 1995, but the Socialist Party was on the decline even before the serial relationships of President Francois Hollande (2012-2017) made him a laughing stock with a 4% popularity rating, and ruined the hopes of the next Socialist Party candidate for the Presidency.
Fragmentation of the Left
The Left re-fragmented: in 2016 Emmanuel Macron, who had been a minister under Hollande, formed La Republique en Marche (Forward the Republic) a centre party, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon formed La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) with an ecosocialist programme, which polled 19.58%, ahead of the Socialist candidate in 2017. Lutte Ouvriere (Workers Struggle) and the New Anti-Capitalist Party further split the Left vote which, combined, would have put a candidate into the second round instead of Le Pen. The communists supported Mélenchon.
Divisions on the Right
But the Right is also in turmoil. The Gaullist party, under its various names, now The Republicans, has been undermined by the fact that its last two presidents and its 2017 candidate have been found guilty of misusing public funds. On the far right, the rise of the National Front was boosted when Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round against Jacques Chirac in 2002, when the slogan was: “Vote for the crook, not the fascist”.
His daughter, Marine, did twice as well as her father in the 2017 run-off, gaining a third of the vote. Less extreme parties competing with the Republicans are Debout La France, and the anti-EU parties Popular Republican Union and Progress & Solidarity (though together these three won barely 5% of the vote).
The presidential candidates 2022 and current polling
In 2017 there were initially 61 candidates, but only 11 secured the necessary sponsorships from at least 500 elected representatives from at least 30 départements. This obviously favours political party candidates, and independents, including Fabrice Grimal, endorsed by some Gilets Jaunes groups as a “citizen candidate”, are unlikely to secure enough sponsorship to proceed to the first round.
The final list of candidates for 2022 will be published on 11 March.
The pollsters expect that list to contain the following candidates, shown here in their order across the political spectrum from left to right, with their latest polling figures:
|Presidential Candidate||Party||Polling||26-28 Jan %|
|Fabien Roussel||Parti Communiste Français|
French Communist Party
|Jean-Luc Melenchon||La France Insoumise|
|Christiane Taubira||Walwari, Parti radicale de gauche|
Left Radical Party
|Anne Hidalgo||Parti Socialiste|
|Yannick Jadot||Europe Ecologie Les Verts|
Europe Ecology The Greens
|Emmanuel Macron||La République en Marche|
Forward the Republic
|Valérie Pécresse||Les Républicains|
|Nicolas Dupont-Aignan||Debout La France|
|Marine Le Pen||Rassemblement Nationale|
The graph above traces the polling since January 2021, and shows the incumbent President, Emmanuel Macron, 44, now maintaining a steady lead. Pollsters expect him to win in the second round, against Marine Le Pen, 53, as in 2017, but with a reduced share of the vote, down to about 54% from two-thirds.
Macron’s policies of raising the pension age and increasing petrol and diesel taxes have led to unrest in the form of the Gilets Jaunes marches, and recently there have been demonstrations against his firm stance on vaccination passes. Police violence has been reported. However Macron’s popularity rating remains around 40%, including 50% from the over-60s.
Parties to right of them, parties to left of them
The entry of the far right author and TV pundit, Eric Zemmour, 63, has dramatically cut Le Pen’s polling figures, which were actually ahead of Macron’s for the first half of 2021; Valérie Pécresse, 54, The Republican’s choice, is now polling close to her. Macron’s supporters say Le Pen is the most dangerous adversary, perhaps to downplay the chances of Précresse, the President of the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris.
Valérie Précresse could be a greater threat to Macron if she were to reach the second round, because there would be no concentrated anti-fascist vote against her, unlike Le Pen. However she is turning out to be gaffe-prone and lacking in charisma.
Prepare for no change
No challenge from the Left/Greens is likely. Together their five candidates are polling 25%, more than Macron, but the current 9.5% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 70, suggests he will not attract the fifth of votes won in 2017 unless a progressive alliance develops between now and April.
In all the circumstances Emmanuel Macron looks set for a second term as President of France.
Sources: Le Point, Marianne, Gala, Radio France Internationale, Yahoo Actualites, Europe 1, EconPol Europe, Constitutionnet, France Inter, Politico, Policy Insider, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia.