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France’s Presidential Vote on Sunday: Why It Matters A Guide to the French Vote (and How It Relates to ‘Brexit’ and Trump)
(about 20 hours later)
French voters will go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of presidential elections. In the wake of electoral upheavals around the world, including the victory of Donald J. Trump and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the vote is one of several in Europe being closely watched worldwide.French voters will go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of presidential elections. In the wake of electoral upheavals around the world, including the victory of Donald J. Trump and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the vote is one of several in Europe being closely watched worldwide.
The president wields broad powers — although the prime minister, as the head of government, also plays an important role in the constitutional system, as does Parliament. Presidents are elected for a five-year term, for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The incumbent, François Hollande, a Socialist, has struggled to reduce unemployment and has had to deal with a string of deadly terrorist attacks.The president wields broad powers — although the prime minister, as the head of government, also plays an important role in the constitutional system, as does Parliament. Presidents are elected for a five-year term, for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The incumbent, François Hollande, a Socialist, has struggled to reduce unemployment and has had to deal with a string of deadly terrorist attacks.
The demands are high for the next president to keep the country safe, jump-start its economy and manage the sometimes competing goals of improving the labor market and the maintaining a social safety net. France’s role in the European Union is also in question.The demands are high for the next president to keep the country safe, jump-start its economy and manage the sometimes competing goals of improving the labor market and the maintaining a social safety net. France’s role in the European Union is also in question.
Elections for the National Assembly, France’s lower and more powerful house of Parliament, are in June, and whoever wins the presidency will want to secure a favorable legislative majority.Elections for the National Assembly, France’s lower and more powerful house of Parliament, are in June, and whoever wins the presidency will want to secure a favorable legislative majority.
As with many elections in France, this one has two rounds. The first round, on Sunday, includes 11 candidates. If no one wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will proceed to a runoff on May 7. (No one has won the first round outright since direct popular voting for the presidency began in the 1960s.)As with many elections in France, this one has two rounds. The first round, on Sunday, includes 11 candidates. If no one wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will proceed to a runoff on May 7. (No one has won the first round outright since direct popular voting for the presidency began in the 1960s.)
The elections are across France and in its overseas territories; there are 45.7 million registered voters. The vast majority of voting is by paper ballot, counted by hand: There is no electronic voting and very few voting machines. Campaign spending is limited, and equal media exposure is enforced.The elections are across France and in its overseas territories; there are 45.7 million registered voters. The vast majority of voting is by paper ballot, counted by hand: There is no electronic voting and very few voting machines. Campaign spending is limited, and equal media exposure is enforced.
Only a few of the candidates are considered serious contenders:Only a few of the candidates are considered serious contenders:
■ François Fillon, a conservative from the center-right Republican party.■ François Fillon, a conservative from the center-right Republican party.
■ Benoît Hamon, of the mainstream left-wing Socialist Party, who has dropped to single digits in the polls.■ Benoît Hamon, of the mainstream left-wing Socialist Party, who has dropped to single digits in the polls.
■ Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front.■ Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front.
■ Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist.■ Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist.
■ Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a hard-left candidate who created the France Unbowed movement.■ Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a hard-left candidate who created the France Unbowed movement.
Of the candidates, Ms. Le Pen has arguably drawn the most attention from journalists, because of her hard-line stance on immigration, her grim warning that a declining France is losing its identity and her party’s record with Jews and Muslims, among other communities.Of the candidates, Ms. Le Pen has arguably drawn the most attention from journalists, because of her hard-line stance on immigration, her grim warning that a declining France is losing its identity and her party’s record with Jews and Muslims, among other communities.
Personal integrity and political corruption have become major issues: Mr. Fillon is enmeshed in an embezzlement scandal, and Ms. Le Pen has faced questions about her use of her position as a member of the European Parliament. These controversies have given lesser-known candidates the opportunity to jab and mock their counterparts during live debates.Personal integrity and political corruption have become major issues: Mr. Fillon is enmeshed in an embezzlement scandal, and Ms. Le Pen has faced questions about her use of her position as a member of the European Parliament. These controversies have given lesser-known candidates the opportunity to jab and mock their counterparts during live debates.
Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen are slightly ahead, but the four front-runners are neck-and-neck in the latest polls, creating uncertainty about who will make it to the runoff. Up to a third of possible voters, according to the latest polls, are still undecided.Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen are slightly ahead, but the four front-runners are neck-and-neck in the latest polls, creating uncertainty about who will make it to the runoff. Up to a third of possible voters, according to the latest polls, are still undecided.
A nation of 67 million, France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and a nuclear power. It is one of the oldest allies of the United States, having helped secure American independence from Britain. It is the world’s most visited country. Since the French Revolution, the nation has often been seen as a beacon of democratic ideals.A nation of 67 million, France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and a nuclear power. It is one of the oldest allies of the United States, having helped secure American independence from Britain. It is the world’s most visited country. Since the French Revolution, the nation has often been seen as a beacon of democratic ideals.
French foreign policy could change significantly if one of the candidates who favor friendlier ties with Russia or weakening the European Union is elected.French foreign policy could change significantly if one of the candidates who favor friendlier ties with Russia or weakening the European Union is elected.
■ Britain's decision to leave the European Union has spurred talk of a similar move in France, sometimes called a “Frexit.” Two of the main candidates, Mr. Mélenchon and Ms. Le Pen, want, for very different reasons, to renegotiate France’s place in the bloc. Should negotiations fail, both have said that they would organize referendums on a departure from the bloc or from the euro currency zone.■ Britain's decision to leave the European Union has spurred talk of a similar move in France, sometimes called a “Frexit.” Two of the main candidates, Mr. Mélenchon and Ms. Le Pen, want, for very different reasons, to renegotiate France’s place in the bloc. Should negotiations fail, both have said that they would organize referendums on a departure from the bloc or from the euro currency zone.
■ The election of President Trump gave a boost to the candidacy of Ms. Le Pen: It suggested that such an upset was possible in France, and the National Front hopes to ride a similar wave of discontent about immigration and globalization. But some of Mr. Trump’s actions, like the one to launch airstrikes in Syria, have led Ms. Le Pen to distance herself from him.■ The election of President Trump gave a boost to the candidacy of Ms. Le Pen: It suggested that such an upset was possible in France, and the National Front hopes to ride a similar wave of discontent about immigration and globalization. But some of Mr. Trump’s actions, like the one to launch airstrikes in Syria, have led Ms. Le Pen to distance herself from him.
■ Questions have also been raised about whether Russia is trying to influence the results.■ Questions have also been raised about whether Russia is trying to influence the results.
The French news media cannot publish results before the last polling stations close at 8 p.m. Because the four front-runners are polling so closely, the winners might not become clear until later. Official results will be available on the website of the French Interior Ministry.The French news media cannot publish results before the last polling stations close at 8 p.m. Because the four front-runners are polling so closely, the winners might not become clear until later. Official results will be available on the website of the French Interior Ministry.
A televised debate between the two finalists is scheduled for May 3, four days before the runoff on May 7. The winner of the runoff will take office by May 14.A televised debate between the two finalists is scheduled for May 3, four days before the runoff on May 7. The winner of the runoff will take office by May 14.