How do French elections work?

Posted by Josh on 4th Jul 2024 in the blog in the french culture category

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The second and final round of voting for the French legislative election is due to take place this Sunday, and while the country heads to the polls, many from France and abroad remain in the dark about how, exactly, the electoral process works.

Presidential Elections

France is a presidential republic, meaning the head of state is an elected president. Interestingly, France's head of state is also the head of state of Andorra, where he or she serves as co-prince or co-princess.

Presidential elections take place every five years, giving rise to the French word quinquennat to denote the duration of a presidential mandate. There are exceptions to this rule, such as if the position of president becomes vacant following his or her death, precipitating a new election. These determine who will become - or remain - the next head of state. Each candidate in the election represents a different political party. If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote - provided that 25% of the electorate has voted - they win the election automatically, and will be installed as president of the Republic. However, if no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote - and this has been the case for every election since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958 - then the voting goes to a second round between the two highest-performing parties. Whoever wins this round wins the presidency.

Legislative Elections

Like the presidential elections, legislative elections take place every five years, unless - as is the case this year - an election is called prematurely. They determine which parties will sit in the national assembly, which forms the lower house of the French parliament. There are 577 seats in the National Assembly. Any party that receives more than half of the seats - that is, 289 or more - can claim a majority, although a government can be formed without any parties holding a majority. Like the presidential elections, the legislative elections go through two rounds, provided that no party wins a majority in the first round. However, individual constituencies may only have one round of voting if a député, or legislator, secures a majority in the first round.

The Senate

The upper house is the senate. There are 348 sénateurs, and while they have less authority over procedures than the députés, they still play a decisive role in legislation, providing extra checks on bills that are passed. The senate is elected every six years by the electoral college, rather than by the citizens of France.

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