Polarising, not diverse: Why the French voting system has to change
Were you also a little confused by the recent news from France?
Although Macron's electoral alliance (called Ensemble) received only a quarter of the votes in the first round of the legislative elections in France, it could win an absolute majority of the seats in the next parliament, called National Assembly.
Here is how this is possible.
This is the result of the first round of the National Assembly election on 12 June 2022:
As said, even though President Macron's party coalition Ensemble gained just 25,8 per cent of the votes, his coalition may gain the absolute majority of seats (289) in the 577-member National Assembly after the second round of voting next Sunday, 19 June 2022.
This is possible because of the electoral system in France, the so-called two-round system (TRS). As the name suggests, the election takes place in two rounds. If none of the candidates in a voting district gains the absolute majority of votes in the first round, a run-off is held between the top two vote-getters. The one with the most votes in the run-off will become a member of the next National Assembly.
Because many candidates of Ensemble and NUPES made it into the run-off election, these two coalitions will also be disproportionately represented in the next parliament. It is expected that Ensemble will gain 257 to 296 and NUPES 157 to 206 of the seats.
This is why Emmanuel Macron is legitimately hoping for an absolute majority in parliament after the upcoming second round. He would then have relatively free rein to enact his legislative agenda (among others, he wants to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 65 and he wants subsidies for poorer households after being hit by inflation).
But the two-round system in France (also the president is elected that way) is highly controversial. It is held responsible for two developments: disenchantment with politics (only 47.5 per cent of the electorate voted in the first round, the lowest turnout on record) and the division in society (as the anti-government gilets jaunes protests have shown).
Those developments are familiar with the USA and partly also the UK. These countries also provide an electoral system that essentially leads to a duel. The Republicans vs the Democrats. The Conservative versus the Labour party. In other words, two-round systems tend to polarize.
The error is within the system.
In a two-round system, minority opinions tend to be ignored (since they often don't make it to the second round). Plus, in such a system, many people have to vote the least bad if their candidate didn't make it to the run-off (which also gives voters the feeling of not being represented).
But the most severe problem with a two-round system is its implications for deeply divided societies.
Diverse views come to a head in a decision between two candidates or parties. Then there often seems to be only two opinions left. For more migration or less. For rising government spending or cutting. Being in favour of the European Union or against it. In two-round systems, in the final round, it is all about black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
So escalation and collision are pre-programmed with such a voting system.
Even worse, societies with such a voting system seem to split up uniquely. On the one hand, the established mainstream, the once in power, on the other hand, those who – in whatever form and for whatever reason – feel excluded and want to see those in power overthrown by all means.
My opinion: Such a duality fits our time less than ever. Because societies are getting more and more diverse. This diversity is not just a wish but a fact. More and more people from more and more different cultures and countries are living incommon living spaces. Therefore we have to find ways how people with different backgrounds and opinions can live together peacefully. This diversity must be reflected in parliament. This is the only way (parliamentary) democracy can work properly. The electoral system of France has to adapt to this development. And not only there.