To hear French officials talk about it – they invented democracy. Not just once, five times. After all – the current Republican avatar is the fifth.
Elections are nearing: Mr. HOLLANDE, from the left, has an easy lead. President SARKOZY is in the doldrums, and may lose a direct confrontation with the candidate from center-left. He has a nightmare, however, and that he will not even make it into the finals – what an incubus!
Let me explain. French Presidential elections are carried out in a two-step procedure. In a first round, any qualified candidate may run. Unless one candidate obtains the absolute majority, the two candidates with the highest tally of votes square off against each other two weeks later. May the best candidate win!
Marina LE PEN is the candidate for the extreme right. She has inherited the mantle from her father, toned down his far right rhetoric and wrapped herself in a nationalist mantle. France for the French! is her battle cry, which rallies both anti-immigration enthusiasts and EU foes. She is very adept at “dog whistle” campaigns, but she also rides popular indignation. As taxes are raised, and services cut, the managerial class has hiked its salaries last year by 30 %. And SARKOZY has been exposed as a profligate President, spending over 5000 € per head for a state dinner.
Karl POPPER famously said that “democracy is all about throwing out the rascals”. The two step voting system allows the electorate to do just that: throw out “the rascal” in the first round without having to bear the consequences – the voters will still have a choice two weeks later. Sarkozy is at risk of being defeated by Marina. Her father did just that to the socialist candidate JOSPIN in 2002.
How to stop Marina? The French constitution stipulates that each candidate has to be sponsored by 500 elected officials or “great electors”. As the name indicates sponsorship is an open procedure. There are about 39’000 “great electors” – mayors, local councilors, departmental and regional MP as well as of course national MPs. The subtlety is that these 500 sponsors must reflect a geographic spread across Greater France, which includes both Pacific and Caribbean Islands – the DOM TOM, as well as other specialties like Corsica.
The government can therefore zero in on key elected officials and either reward them before or punish them after the sponsorship procedure. The threat that Marina not get the necessary sponsorship is real – Marina’s father failed to gather the votes in 1981.
One need not like Marina Le Pen to recognize that she is more than just a spoilsport candidate lacking a constituency. Under normal circumstances she’ll easily garner 15% of the popular vote in the first round (her father got 21 % in 2002 – and the electorate was no so despondent and vindictive as it is likely to be on 22 April next).
Should Marina fail to garner the 500 necessary “grand electors” and be excluded from the Presidential race – France would no longer be a true democracy, and the ruling caste would stand exposed as manipulative to the hilt.