Under the Fifth Republic and since the constitutional amendment of 6 November 1962 approved by the referendum of 28 October 1962, the President of the Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage. Presidential elections take place every five years, since the Constitutional Act No. 2000-964 of 2 October 2000 (loi constitutionnelle n° 2000-964 du 2 octobre 2000).
Presidential elections are held every five years and the next election is set to take place on 22 April and on 6 May 2007.
The French use a two-round first-past-the-post system for presidential elections:
To be elected in the first ballot, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority of the votes cast. Only two candidates may stand in the second ballot as the person elected must obtain a majority of the votes cast, as provided for in the Constitution (Article 7). They are the two candidates who obtained the greatest number of votes in the first ballot;
In the second ballot, the candidate who obtains the majority of the votes cast is elected.
The second ballot is held on the second Sunday after the first ballot.
Since the institutional Act of 11 March 1988 on the financial transparency of political life, the candidates must submit a statement giving details of all their property to the Constitutional Council and commit to submitting another statement at the end of their term of office. After checking whether all the admissibility requirements are fulfilled, the Constitutional Council establishes a list of candidates. After the election, it publishes only the elected candidate’s statement.
THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN SCHEDULE The texts set a specific but flexible deadline for the presidential election. It must be held no less than 20 days and no more than 35 days before the expiry of the term of the President in office. The official election campaign begins the day the list of candidates is published in the Journal Officiel, at least 15 days before the first ballot, and stops at midnight on the Friday before the first ballot. It resumes on the day the names of the two candidates chosen on the first ballot are published and ends at midnight on the Friday before the second ballot. The official campaign lasts a total of about 30 days.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN FINANCING
The election campaign is financed in two ways:
· With public financing, organized by the institutional Act No. 62-1292 of 6 November 1962, amended on 5 April 2006 (loi organique n° 62-1292 du 6 novembre 1962, modifiée le 5 avril 2006) and by the institutional Acts on political party funding of 1988, 1990 and 1995;
· With private financing mainly from political parties but also from private individuals.
Each candidate must keep campaign accounts that very specifically state the origin of their income and the nature of their spending. Candidates may not personally manage their accounts, but must name a financial middleman (trustee). Accounts must be submitted to the Constitutional Council in the two months following the second ballot so it can check they are in order.
Spending is capped at €13.7 million for candidates in the first ballot and €18.3 million for those in the second ballot. Each candidate is reimbursed for a sum equal to 5% of the permitted spending limit, and since 2001, 50% for candidates who obtain over 5% of the votes cast in the first ballot. This reimbursement may not be greater than the spending the candidates report.
Donations from private individuals are limited to €4,574 and all donations equal to or over €152.50 must be made by cheque. In 1995, donations from private businesses were banned.
Financial and criminal penalties are provided for if this law is violated. Therefore candidates who exceed the permitted spending limit must pay the Treasury the excess. This, however, does not make them ineligible to stand in the election.
WHO CAN BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC?
· have French nationality;
· be registered voters and at least 23 years of age
· have fulfilled the obligations regarding texts on army recruitment (before the end of military service, candidates needed only to have enlisted, without necessarily completing their military service);
Three procedures must also be carried out:
- Candidates must gather the signatures of 500 elected representatives, in at least 30 French-administered territories outside Europe, no more than 10% of whom may be from just one of them.
This procedure is referred to as the “presentation of the candidates”. It aims to remove less serious candidates from the presidential race and encourages candidates with genuine national appeal.
Candidates must also submit a sworn statement with details of all their property, (two months at the earliest and a month at the latest before the expiry of term of office of the current President) so as to ensure greater transparency in political life. This statement concerns the candidate’s personal assets.
The campaign accounts must reach the Constitutional Council for auditing within two months of the election.
Once the procedures have been carried out, the list of candidates is established by the Constitutional Council. The Journal Officiel then publishes it at least 15 days before the first ballot.
WHAT ARE THE POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC?
He or she sees, by his or her arbitration, that the Constitution is observed, and ensures the smooth functioning of the public authorities and the continuity of the State (Article 5 of the Constitution). Moreover, he or she is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces with, in practice, a predominant role in all defence issues, especially since France’s development of a nuclear deterrent (Article 15). The Constitution (Article 14) and institutional practice confer upon him or her a major role in diplomacy. Therefore, the President has access to what is now referred to as a domaine réservé (reserved area), an important notion particularly in times of cohabitation.
There are two categories of presidential powers: shared powers, requiring the permission of the Government, such as for example the signature of ordinances and decrees deliberated upon in the Council of Ministers or the promulgation of laws; and own powers, exempt from this procedure, such as resorting to a referendum, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the implementation of Article 16 of the Constitution which confers upon him or her emergency powers to safeguard democracy and re-establish the functioning of public authorities at the earliest opportunity.
To find out more
President of the French Republic
Le Président de la République (The President of the Republic) by Maryvonne Bonnard in Institutions et vie politique sous la Vème République (Institutions and political life under the Fifth Republic) – La Documentation française – 2003 – Collection Les notices - pp 24- 30
© Ministère des Affaires étrangères, 2007