What’s Next in the French Presidential Election?

Posted by on Apr 26, 2017 in World

Last weekend was the first round of voting in the French presidential election. The two candidates who earned the most votes–Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen–will now advance to the second round of voting, which will take place on May 7.

How Does the French Electoral System Work?

France has a multi-party political system, which means that it has several major political parties. (By contrast, the U.S. has only two major parties: Democrat and Republican.) In the first round of voting, many candidates from the various parties compete at once. The winning candidate must take over 50 percent of the vote. If that doesn’t happen, the top two vote getters advance to a runoff vote. Once elected, the French president can serve a maximum of two five-year terms in office.

Illuminated view of the Palais Bourbon or French parliament building, with the Pont de la Concorde bridge and Seine River in the foreground, in Paris at dusk

French Parliament with Concorde bridge (Credit: Sir Francis CankerPhotography/Getty Images)

Last weekend, 11 candidates competed in round one of the presidential election. None of them received more than 50 percent of the vote. Therefore, the two candidates who received the most votes will now advance to the runoff election on May 7.

Who Are the Candidates?

Emmanuel Macron, the top vote-getter with 24 percent, is a former investment banker. He is an independent centrist who wants to completely revamp the French political system, which he says has failed to address the people’s problems. He wants to reform the unemployment system, cut business taxes, and relax labor laws. He believes in supporting immigration and in creating a strong, unified Europe with open borders. Macron is supported by important European leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel, and European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. At 39 years old, if Macron wins, he will become the youngest French president in history.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, received 21.3 percent of the vote. She is strongly anti-immigration and wants to hire more police and expand prisons. She has often been compared to President Trump for her nativist “France first” policy. Her plan to negotiate with the European Union (EU) for “full sovereignty,” including a return to using the franc instead of the euro, has raised concerns that if she is elected, France will follow in Britain’s footsteps and leave the EU as well.

What is the Likely Outcome?

Though Macron is the stronger candidate and received a higher percentage of the initial vote, he is quick to say that nothing is for certain yet. Le Pen has accused Macron of being weak on Islamic terrorism because of Macron’s pro-immigration stance and his belief in a strong, united Europe with open borders. This is a position that could potentially harm him politically: less than 72 hours before last weekend’s election, a terrorist attack on the Champs Elysees claimed by the Islamic State left a police officer dead and two other officers seriously injured. In all, France has lost 239 people to terrorist attacks over the past two years.

Regardless of who wins the election, the new president’s ability to achieve his or her agenda will largely be decided by the parliamentary elections in June.

What Do You Think? Which political system do you prefer: the two-party system found in the United States (Republican and Democrat), or the multi-party system of France? Which system do you think is more effective at addressing the needs of the people? Do you think that the U.S. could ever develop a multi-party system? Why or why not?