Europe

How does the French electoral system work?

In the coming weeks the French people will head to the polls on four separate occasions to elect their President and members of the National Assembly.

Polls are showing a tight race and there are 11 candidates in the President. So how does it all work?

The Presidential race

The Presidential election has two rounds which will take place on April 23 and May 7.

The candidate who manages to get above 50 per cent of the overall national popular vote is elected President for a five year term.

A candidate could potentially win in the first round of voting, but with 11 candidates in the race for President it’s unlikely any will reach the 50 per cent mark in the first round.

If no candidate wins an overall majority in the first round, the top two candidates face off in a second round of voting.

Voting isn’t compulsory in France, but historically the French have had much higher voter turnout than many other European nations.

In the 2012 election the first round of voting had just fewer than 80 per cent of registered voters turn out.  The runoff between the Socialist party’s Francois Hollande and the Republican party’s  Nicholas Sarkozy attracted a slightly larger number.

The National Assembly

However there won’t be time to put their feet up for whoever wins the Presidential election.

The two rounds of voting for the National Assembly will be on June 11 and June 18, just over a month after the Presidential election ends.

For the National Assembly elections France is split in to 577 constituencies, each who elect one depute (the equivalent of an MP).

French Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a conference in Nantes, western France, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.
French Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a conference in Nantes, western France, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.
AAP

To win in the first round a candidate must gain more than 50 per cent of votes and have a number of votes equal to at least one quarter of all registered voters in the electorate.  

If no candidate meets both those requirements in the first round, all candidates who got above 12.5 per cent of the vote go in to the second round. If fewer than two candidates reach the 12.5 per cent mark then whoever were the top two candidates go in to a runoff.  

Whichever candidate has more votes in the second round wins, regardless of whether they reach 50 per cent mark.

President vs National Assembly

In France the President is the one who picks the Prime Minister and also has the power to dissolve the National Assembly and call fresh elections.

However the National Assembly has a lot of power, including the capacity to remove a Prime Minister and ministers. So to govern effectively the President needs the majority of the National Assembly support whoever their choice for Prime Minister is.

If the National Assembly is hostile to the President, the President can be reduced to a largely ceremonial role, unable to legislate or govern.

In almost all elections the winner of the Presidency belongs to the same party who also gains the most seats in the National Assembly. However this it could become more complex.

Both of the current frontrunners, Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, come from outside the two major parties that have traditionally dominated the National Assembly.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron is seen in the latest French poll making it to the runoff. (AAP)
Centrist Emmanuel Macron is seen in the latest French poll making it to the runoff. (AAP)
EPA

Mr Macron previously served as the economy minister to the current President Hollande of the Socialist party. Mr Macron quit and formed his new political party En Marche (On the Move) in April last year, so his party currently has no seats in the National Assembly.

Meanwhile Ms Le Pen’s National Front party has only two deputes in the National Assembly.

While both Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron’s parties may pick up more seats from the established Socialist and Republican parties they are unlikely to reach an outright majority in their own right. 

Read more about the French elections