An American Perspective on French Elections.
Usually Americans find European politics quite complicated. This is mostly due to the multi-party systems of most European countries (including
The multi-part system gives more political space to minority opinions (including extreme ones) and ensures a richer debate at the cost of confusion and instability.
But the French system is actually a mix of both – the legislative elections have all the features of a traditional multi-party system but the presidential elections is more similar to a two-party system in which the first round corresponds more or less to an American open primary and the second round is between the two candidates that had the most votes, and is exactly as in the U.S.
[The last French presidential elections in which an extreme party got its representative to the second round was an oddity.]
In the same way as in the
A few major differences though – the American contenders for the presidential post will spend about 16 times as much as the their French counterparts (and a substantial part of that sum comes from the state in France); the turnout in the first round was high (85% compared to 60% in the last
In America, where turnout even for intense presidential elections is exceptionally low by international standards, and where there is a growing restlessness about the claustrophobic impact of archaic state election systems and the Electoral College on our democracy, there is something to be learned from the French process.
By holding elections on a two-stage schedule, France avoids many of the pitfalls of the American system. France has its Ross Perots, Ralph Naders and Pat Buchanans, and they run for the presidency. Indeed, they are given a far fairer share of attention by the media than they get in the United States. As such, the boundaries of French politics are broader, the messages of campaigns more adventurous and exciting. Perhaps that is why turnout Sunday was 85 percent.
Rarely do ideologically or personally extreme candidates make it through the first round. And, when they do, they are obliterated in the second round, as was nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002. That creates a politics that, at its best, emphasizes both the power of ideas and the importance of coalition building.The French system, with its two candidate run-off, assures that presidents are elected with a majority of the vote — unlike Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, when Perot's independent candidacies pulled enough votes to prevent anyone from gaining a majority, and George Bush in 2000, when Nader's Green candidacy secured enough support in key states to be portrayed as warping the Electoral College result against the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore. [In fairness, the Supreme Court did more to warp the result, when it stopped the Florida recount. But in France, the fight never would have gotten to the Bush-friendly court.]
Now of course, the first round of the elections would also surprise many Americans: the candidates would rather publish books than use and none has used U.S.-style focus groups:
There was disbelief when the Americans were told that there were three Trotskyist candidates, a Communist, and an anti-globalization campaigner, and utter astonishment when they learned that all 12 candidates had been allotted the same amount of airtime during the last two weeks of campaigning: 45 minutes each. The content of television ads is also regulated: Candidates are not allowed to attack their opponents or show French symbols like the flag or the presidential palace.
As in the
I am no fan of Sarkozy though and will probably vote for Ségolène BUT if I do so, it will be with very little enthusiasm. Here latest comment yesterday that she had "a responsibility to issue an alert over the risks ... regarding the violence and brutalities that will be triggered across the country. Everyone knows it but no one says it. It is a kind of taboo." will not help get motivated. This sort of desperate move is pretty bad.