There’s a better way to elect France’s president. Here’s the answer

By Richard Wood

France is going to the polls no fewer than four times in 2022, first for the French presidential election (the first round held on 10 April and the second on 24 April) and two months later for the parliamentary election (again split into two rounds on 12 and 19 June).

In 2017 Emmanuel Macron, a former Socialist Party minister, built his own centrist movement and won the first round before going on to beat far-right Marine Le Penn to become president. Then two months later, his party won a majority of seats in the French parliament.

It’s been a turbulent five years in French politics – not to mention politics across the rest of Europe – but Macron is likely to make it into the final round in 2022. Whether Macron secures a second term likely depends on who he his up against although it’s looking more and more likely that 2022 will be q repeat of 2017. Here’s how French presidential elections work.

France’s two-round presidential system

As already said, the French presidential election is split into two rounds. In the first round the French public vote for their preferred candidate. In the extremely unlikely event that any candidate recieves over 50% of the vote then they become president without the need for a second round. If no candidate recieves this then all but the top two candidates are eliminated and two weeks later they go head to head. In 2017, Macron secured 24% of the vote, just ahead of Le Pen’s 21.3%.

The system is designed to ensure broader mandates for presidents than under a simple First Past the Post system. Ultimately, in 2017 Macron won 66.1% of the vote ahead of Le Pen’s 33.9%, handing him the presidency.

While this is fairer than First Past the Post, the two-round system is not without its flaws.

Tactical voting is still present as there is an incentive for voters to support candidates likely to make it into the second round. Furthermore, while mandates are broader than under FPTP, many voters will have held their nose to vote for Macron to keep Le Pen out.

There is also the risk that two popular extremists can get into the final round if mainstream parties are split. Say if four very similar candidates each get 15% of the vote, two very very different candidates could get 20% each and get into the final round. The optimum preference of all voters could be somewhere in the centre but voters of the middle four would have no one to back in the final round.

Again, this system is better than FPTP (for single member positions) but there remain significant flaws.

READ MORE: How proportional was Norway’s election? Lessons for the UK

There is an alternative – lessons from Ireland

So what’s the best model for single-member positions?

There is a simple answer to this and that is the Alternative Vote, or ranked choice voting (instant run-off) where voters get one ballot and rank candidates in order of preference. This gets rid of the need for two rounds, largely eliminates wasted votes and ensures that the most popular candidate overall takes the position available.

This is used to elect the non-executive president in Ireland and could be used in France to elect its executive president.

READ MORE: Canada’s 2021 election – the striking flaws of FPTP exposed

Mayors and presidents – what can the UK and Scotland take from this?

Unfortunately the UK Government are taking away the closest thing we have to the two-round system and AV by legislating to impose First Past the Post for mayoral and PPC elections in its Elections Bill. This a terrible move for UK democracy.

Instead of introducing this regressive reform, the UK should look at France and learn from Ireland for electing single-member positions. If we are to have elected positions such as mayors and PPCs, or even one day a non-executive president like in Ireland, then we should use the Alternative Vote. The same goes if Scotland ever introduced elected mayors or other single-member elected positions.

UK democracy is broken. We must learn from around the world to address our democratic deficit. France shows just one better, but imperfect, alternative.

READ MORE: Should Scotland introduce elected mayors?

Image from Pixabay