The first round of the French National Assembly elections are today, 10 June. The parliament is elected by majority-plurality in single-seat districts: in the first round, a candidate must win more than half the votes cast. In districts where no candidate has won the majority, there will be runoffs in a week. The runoffs–unlike the second round in a French presidential election–are not restricted to just the top two candidates. Any candidate obtaining the votes of more than 12.5% of registered voters at the first round may remain in the runoff, in which a plurality suffices. In fact, in most of the history of the French Fifth Republic, most districts have tended to have only two significant candidates stand in the runoff. (The rise of the National Front of Jean Marie Le Pen has led to more three-way races in recent times.)
While many districts will go to runoffs, the aggregate outcome is not in doubt. The only question is how large the majority will be for the conservative alliance of just-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French party scene is quite fragmented, but the majority-plurality system tends to give a large bonus to the leading alliance. And assembly elections following so closely on presidential elections are virtually guaranteed to give the new president a large advantage.
Given the range of partisan options, the range of possible governing alliances could be somewhat larger if France used some form of proportional representation. That is, in the current context, the options would not realistically be left vs. right–that having been largely settled by the presidential election–but a bit more centrist vs. a bit more rightist within the center-right. Under the system in use, however, these elections will be little more a confirmation/coronation for Sarkozy and his newly appointed premier, FranÃ§ois Fillon.
Regarding PR, a recent Angus Reid poll shows that many French agree with third-place presidential candidate FranÃ§cois Bayrou, a former ally of the right who ran as a centrist alternative, that PR would be a good idea.
Which of these possibilities would you prefer for future legislative elections?
Electing every lawmaker through proportional representation: 20%
Electing some lawmakers through proportional representation: 29%
No changes from the current system: 38%
Not sure: 13%
Source: CSA / France Info
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 935 French adults, conducted on May 30 and May 31, 2007. No margin of error was provided.