"Ce qui barre la route fait faire du chemin" (Jean de La Bruyère - 'Les Caractères')

mardi 24 avril 2012

French politics for dummies (in english)

The french electoral system runs on a 5 year cycle. The president is elected directly by all the voters (minimum age : 18 yo). To be elected president, you need 50 % of the popular vote. This was not reached by any candidate last Sunday. In two weeks, on the second round, the two candidates who collected the most votes last Sunday (Hollande and Sarkozy) will compete. The winner will be the one who has the most votes (even under 50%).

  • The lower house of the Parliement is elected immediately after the president. The prime minister is coming from the dominant party in the lower house (not necessarly the same party as the president's – in that case, it is called "cohabitation").
  • Anybody can be candidate in the presidential race. You don't need the support of a real party, although it's easier. To take part in the race, you have to gather 500 signed endorsements from local elected officials (such as mayors : there are 36,000 mayors in France !). This is the reason why a lunatic like Jacques Cheminade managed to be candidate this year. His program included the project of an universal effort to implant human colonies on Mars. He got 0.2 % of voters last Sunday.
  • The system doesn't require primaries like in the US. Sarkozy was the only candidate of his party (UMP - conservative) this year and 5 years ago. But the Socialist Party (PS) has organized this time a certain form of primary, on the national level, to choose its candidate among 6 executives of the PS. All the french voters were able to cast their vote and François Hollande was designated.
  • Dominique Strauss Kahn would have been the obvious contender for the PS if he hadn't been caught his pants down in the 2806 suite of the Sofitel hotel in New York City.
  • If the president of the Republic dies, the president of the Senate (elected on a different basis) takes over for a period of about 2 months, after which a presidential election is called.
  • The president has the power to dismiss the lower house, only once during his 5 year term. In that case, parlementary elections are called. The president can change the prime minister (always coming from the dominant party) and the government as many times as he wants.
  • The president cannot be criminally charged during his term. The president can be a divorcee, a womanizer. He can have one or several mistresses. He can marry a botoxed ex-model turned singer. 
  • The president can be a woman, but that has never happened. He could be gay. But that has never been proven.

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