General or legislative elections are held to choose the 577 deputies who sit in the National Assembly; they are elected for a five-year term by direct universal suffrage on the two-ballot, uninominal majority system. Each deputy represents a constituency which may vary in size, but has on average 100,000 inhabitants. First-past-the-post voting was introduced by General de Gaulle as an antidote to the instability which had plagued the governments of the Fourth Republic and which had been largely due to proportional representation. The proportional system was brought back for the 1986 general election by the Socialist government - which was seeking better representation for small political groups - but the first-past-the-post system was reinstated for the 1988 elections and has been retained ever since.
The last general election, the thirteenth under the Fifth Republic, was held on 10 and 17 June 2007.
Deputies are elected on a two-ballot uninominal (first-past-the-post) system. To be elected, the candidate must obtain:
In the first ballot, the absolute majority of votes cast, equal in number to 25% of registered voters; To stand in the second ballot, the candidate must have obtained a number of votes equal at least to 12.5% of registered voters. In the second ballot, a relative majority is enough to secure victory and whoever obtains the highest number of votes is elected; in the event of a tie, the older candidate wins. Elections are held in all French constituencies, with each returning one deputy.
Becoming a Deputy
A candidate must be aged 23 years or over, of French nationality, have the right to vote and fulfil the eligibility requirements. The conditions that make a person ineligibleto stand for election or be elected concern the candidate’s personal situation (his/her property is under receivership, (s)he is deprived of civic rights, or has declared personal bankruptcy) and his/her office (Ombudsman, préfets, judges and prosecutors, top local government officials).
The Fifth Republic introduced the incompatibility of the duties of a Minister with the exercise of any parliamentary mandate.
This made it necessary to establish a system of alternates who may be required to replace deputies appointed members of the Government.
The duties of a deputy are also incompatible with those of a senator or MEP (this also applies to alternates).
Conducting the campaign
Political parties presenting candidates may campaign on radio and television. Before the first ballot, political parties and groups represented in the National Assembly are granted three hours of air time. It is divided into two equal parts, one for groups who are part of the Majority and the other for those who are not.
90 minutes of air time is granted before the second ballot. The year prior to the election, funds for financing the campaign are placed in special accounts that are managed by a financial trustee (a person or an association). Candidates’ campaign accounts record their income and spending, as well as any payment in kind given to them. These campaign accounts are not allowed to be overdrawn and must be submitted to the National Campaign Accounts and Political Funding Commission two months after the election. >p>Spending is capped: €38,000 in addition to €0.15 per person in the constituency. Businesses are not allowed to make campaign contributions and individual donations are capped. The State reimburses each candidate who has obtained over 5% of the votes cast for their campaign expenses (official leaflets, election posters on notice boards and voting papers). It also gives them a lump sum for actual expenditure, which may not exceed 50% of the cap on spending.
Role of Deputies
The main role of deputies is to take part in drafting legislation, both projets de loi, (government bills) and propositions de loi.
Deputies also have the power to monitor the Government’s action. This power is exercised in debates on the Government’s statements, oral and written questions, commissions of inquiry, Standing Committee investigations. Deputies can challenge the Government’s political responsibility: they can force the Government to resign by passing a motion of censure (no confidence) (Articles 49 and 50 of the Constitution).
During their term of office, deputies enjoy special protection, i.e. parliamentary immunity:
from prosecution for votes and words spoken in the National Assembly from prosecution for offences not connected with parliamentary functions (except when deputies are caught committing an offense). President of the National Assembly
The president is elected for the life of the parliament. As soon as the new parliament is elected, it spends the first session on electing the president (equivalent to speaker of the House). The first session is thus presided over by the oldest deputy, assisted by the six youngest deputies.
To be elected in one of the first two rounds of voting, the president must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast. If a third round is necessary (so far it never has been), a relative majority suffices.