Elections in France

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On Thursday, Pascal Cauchy, historian at Sciences Po, came to talk to us about election process in France and the elections of 2012. This is a very current, hot topic for the French because of presidential and parliamentary elections that are happening in April and May.

For the elections, direct universal suffrage is applied. “Universal” refers to equality among citizens and the fact that everyone should have equal rights to vote. In the past, this meant that right to vote was independent of wealth and status in the community, but later on it also meant giving equal right to vote to both men and women. I found it very surprising that in France women didn’t have the right to vote until 1946, just after the World War II. Women were finally able to vote significantly later than in majority of other developed countries: US (1920), UK (1918), Germany (1919) are some examples.

“Direct” means that voters directly cast ballots for presidential candidate or political party that they want to be elected. This is common in many countries, but different from US presidential elections which are indirect and where people cast ballots for members of the Electoral College who in turn directly choose the president.
Presidential elections are done in two rounds, where the best two candidates from the first round go to the second one to battle it out.

Upcoming elections are important and one must choose wisely because in France president has great powers and great responsibilities. He:

  1. Chooses the Prime Minister
  2. May dissolve the National Assembly
  3. Can initiate referendum
  4. Has, according to Article 16 of the Constitution, exceptional powers at the times of big crises. This article allows the president to behave like a dictator for a short period of time in order to get the country out of trouble. It has been used only once during the Algerian war by Charles de Gaulle.
  5. Is commander-in-chief of the armed forces
  6. Can order the use of nuclear weapons

We finished our talk by commenting on the upcoming presidential elections. Even though there are 12 different candidates from different political parties, there are 4 that are more significant than the others.
Below are the 4 candidates with their names, parties and the results from one of the election opinion polls.


From the statistic, we expect Holland and Sarkozy in the second round, and then from then on, everything is possible. Another scenario involves UMP or PS candidate in the second round together with Marine Le Pen, which would lead UMP or PS candidate directly to the presidential seat. (easy win guaranteed)

I note again position of women in french politics and society. Not only that it took so long for women to get the right to vote, but now there are not enough women in French politics as well. One of the largest parties, UMP, has never had a women representative at presidential elections. The other one, PS, did it in 2007 when they put forward Ségolène Royal, but unfortunately they lost. It would’ve been a great change and a great challenge for France to have a first woman president.

This year, it seems to me that the only parties that are ready to put a woman forward are the ones that know they can’t win. Do big parties think that if they have a female candidate, they might end up losing? And whether, in fact, they have every right to think that based on the preferences in the french society?