How people elect parliaments
The French have stayed away in droves from the first round of their national legislative election, with a shockingly low voter turnout of just 47%.
Sunday’s election turnout result – which comes just days after British electoral turnout rose to 68%, the UK’s healthiest result in many years – is likely to lead to a massively lopsided result in favour of new President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en marche (REM) party.
Official results for all 577 Assemblée Nationale electoral divisions show Macron’s party leading clearly over a fragmented field of around nine significant national parties and a diverse array of minor party, local, ‘regionalist’ and independent candidacies.
REM and their quasi-coalition partner Movement for Democracy (MoDem), which between them avoided contesting the same seats, have won 32% of the vote between them. But they are likely to collect around 75% or more of the Assembly seats due to the fragmentation of all other parties and the nation’s unique election rules.
Under France’s two-round voting system, the first round of voting is essentially an elimination exercise. Only candidates who win 12.5% of the number of registered voters in their individual district are eligible to contest the second round.
If there are not at least two such candidates, then the two with the highest votes go forward anyway.
Alternatively, a candidate can win a district outright by winning 50% of the vote, and 25% of the registrations, in the first round. But it seems just 4 districts have been won on this rule overnight – probably the lowest number of such wins ever seen under the system.
But more importantly, the very low turnout has decimated the ranks of all election contestants other than the REM/MoDem group.
In the first round of voting for the nation’s presidents just a few weeks ago, 37 million of France’s 47.5 million registered voters – around 75% – participated. Today just 23.1 million voters took part.
The REM/MoDem alliance collectively won the votes of 15.3% of the national electorate. In almost every district their candidate will either exceed the 12.5% threshold, or else place in the top two candidates. Either way virtually every district will have a REM/MoDem candidate as one of only two candidates in the final round of voting next Sunday.
But the rest of the political field is in disarray.
On the left, the once mighty Socialist party was supported by a derisory 3.5% of registered voters.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (FI) party did substantially better, but was still only supported with 5.2% of the electorate.
The support of both the main left parties will be concentrated in urban areas, and each party will secure many second round places, mostly just by placing second while remaining well below the 12.5% threshold.
On the right, Les Républicains won 7.5% of the national electorate, from which they will secure a large number of second-round slots in rural areas on the top-two rule.
Candidates of the far right National Front party won support from 6.3% of registered voters, and will also pick up the second spot in the final round in places where their vote is most concentrated.
A scattering of second slots for the second round of voting will go to minor parties or independents, as well as some ‘regionalist’ candidates in France’s overseas electoral areas.
(Update: Canadian psephologist Gaël Malo L’Hermine has rapidly created this excellent map of yesterday’s first round results by first place in each district, dramatically illustrating the complete fragmentation of all other parties except the dominant REM (yellow) and their partner MoDem (orange).
Overall, the outcome of the first round is that there will be virtually no three-way contests next Sunday, and REM/MoDem will have one of the two slots in almost every single race.
No other party is likely to have a candidate in anywhere near half of the districts, making it already mathematically impossible for any party other than REM/MoDem to win a parliamentary majority.
Even tactical vote coordination of opposition to the president’s party by the other parties will prove near impossible. With only one alternative candidate from either the left or from the right in each district contest, Macron’s ‘centrist’ party, already the leading party in popular support, will also be more attractive to all the voters from the side of politics with no candidate.
Put down the glasses – Emmanuel Macron’s party is already guaranteed a parliamentary majority in the Assemblée Nationale
The only other factor in next Sunday’s election will, again, be whether French voters even turnout in significant numbers for the election.
As the news over the coming week will be that the other parties have no hope at all of parliamentary success, there will understandably be little reason for voters to bother voting.
All up, the combination of an insurgent new party of the political centre, without past political baggage and supporting a popular new president, together with France’s unique voting system, threaten to make the 2017 Assemblée Nationale elections something of a democratic debacle.