Does Marine le Pen face the Guillotine?

Want to run for the French Presidency? No problem just lineup 500 mayors and/or local officials from at least 30 different départements willing to supply a reference or parrainage , and you’re on your way.

Front National’s Marine Le Pen blocked from the ballot? (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Well that reportedly, is proving more difficult than it sounds for the far-right Front National candidate Marine le Pen. She has repeatedly called the 500 signature amendment, introduced in 1976, “undemocratic” and warned it could keep her off the ballot.

Now vengeance is on the menu according to Marianne, a left wing weekly obsessed with Marine le Pen whose party it considers to be a great threat to the French politics it supports.

Louis Aliot, director of the Front National presidential campaign told the magazine, “if Marine le Pen fails to garner the signatures, (subtext because local mayors are being pressured not to provide a reference by Socialist and UMP-controlled regional administrations whose weapon is the public funding cheque-book), we will ensure that in the general elections that follow we fight three-way contests in many of the seats where UMP and Socialist candidates are likely to lose if we put up a candidate. I would remind you that M. Jean-François Copé, (secretary-general of the UMP group in the National Assembly and deputy Mayor of Meaux, Seine-et-Marne) was beaten in 1997 in a three-way contest with the Front National … and I can tell you that today quite a number of UMP deputies are clenching their buttocks tightly and praying Marine will be a candidate,” he told Marianne. “We will also mobilize our supporters to defeat Sarkozy if Marine le Pen is not on the ballot” he said.

The issue, apart from what it says about French democracy, is not a mere sideshow.

Latest polls suggest the Front National, rejuvenated and detoxified since Marine le Pen took over slightly more than 12 months ago, has virtually secured a mass defection of the working class from the Socialists and Communists in the coming presidential ballot, rebranding itself the party of the poor. Its platform, simply stated and easily comprehended includes a promise of French jobs for French workers, an exit from the eurozone, a patriotic Buy French campaign and withdrawal from the European Union. Such clear messages are being heard with increasing sympathy as the ongoing investment banker-driven global crisis drags on into its fifth catastrophic year with no end in sight.

Marine le Pen has sounded the alarm, virtually accusing the two main parties of a tacit conspiracy to block her from standing because of her growing supporter base.  In response French voters from across the political spectrum, commenting on blogs and online media websites, are voicing concern about a tactic that might deprive someone representing perhaps 20% of the vote from standing as a candidate. It would they warn, be undemocratic and corrosive of French Republican values.

Fair or foul on the election battleground?

President Nicolas Sarkozy (not yet officially declared) and François Hollande, the open cheque-book Socialist candidate, have both turned a deaf ear however, telling the Front National to “débrouiller“ — sort the problem themselves.

The 1976 law on parrainage -la loi du 18 juin 1976 says: MPs and senators; mayors, a host of local, regional and communal officials, members of the Corsican Assembly, the territorial councils of Saint Barthélémy, Saint Martin and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon; officials in French Polynesia and New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna Islands; and French MEPs, can all be asked to present or sponsor a candidate in the presidential election.

The names of these people — whose signatures do not necessarily imply support for a candidate’s ideas — are to some extent in the public domain, as 500 names per candidate are chosen at random and published. Friday March 16, 2012 is the deadline for submitting the required 500 names.

See this Feb 24, 2011 Marine Le Pen interview on Euronews (English subtitles)

However some news reports contend that local officials and mayors are increasingly reluctant to agree to Marine le Pen’s solicitations, after at least one mayor claimed that when he did so for her father in the last election, his village suffered reprisals in the form of reduced funding and subsidies for projects.

These alleged pressures were firmly rebutted in this Europe1 report: Vanik Bererian President of the Mouvement Démocrate or MoDem Mayors of rural France, said February 8, that small town and village mayors are “showing their displeasure ” by refusing any recommendations for presidential candidates. He ruled out reports that they were under any pressure. “There is a weariness on the part of many elected officials,” he said. “The mayors get dozens of requests in the campaign period, and then as soon as its over their parrainage is forgotten. We get asked to support candidates that are completely unknown to us and who have done nothing for our communities. This year more mayors than five years ago have decided not to sign recommendations for would-be candidates, which is a way of showing they are fed up”.

However, he insisted, “there has been no pressure on small town mayors, no blackmail regarding subsidies from regional, general or inter-communal councils , these allegations are a myth, and do not correspond to reality. I would find it unusual for any elected official recommending Marine Le Pen to be worried about doing so. If she has problems, she has only herself to blame,” he said, noting that the Front National campaign for signatures had started late this year. He added that he was opposed to demands by the Front National that parrainage signatures should be given anonymously. “Elected officials should not be ashamed to provide a recommendation to any candidate,” he said.

Meanwhile a Socialist-supporting US-born French academic Arun Kapil says any chance of a repeat of the April 2001 upset (which saw Jean-Marie Le Pen overtake Prime Minister Lionel Jospin—the Socialist party candidate and make it through to the second round) is “unthinkable”, French voters having “learned their lesson” in that election.



Read his arguments here:“There has been much talk over the past year, in view of Marine Le Pen’s rise, of a repeat of the 21 avril in the upcoming presidential election—of Marine LP overtaking the Socialist candidate to face off against President Sarkozy—or of a 21 avril à l’envers, i.e. a reverse 21 avril, where the candidate of the mainstream right is eliminated—in this case Sarkozy—and with Marine LP going head-to-head with the candidate of the left in the second round. The former prospect is now pretty much excluded given François Hollande’s consistently high poll numbers. But the latter possibility, of Sarkozy being eliminated, is very much on the table in view of his weak poll numbers and high unpopularity… I have been arguing strongly against this, though. I have been insisting for years—and particularly over the past one—that there is almost no chance of a repeat of the 21 avril, that Marine LP will not make it to the second round in the upcoming vote…”

The presidential election (first round 22 April) will be followed on 3 June by a general election and both will for the first time, draw on voters from among French communities settled abroad who participate either by postal vote or in some countries at local consulates and embassies, another factor whose likely impact is difficult to measure. This change in legislation has however provoked much concern in Canada (which still bears the scars of de Gaulle’s Vive le Québec libre remarks made during an official visit to Canada in 1967).

Julien Balkany a French citizen and New Yorker running for parliament

According to the National Post newspaper the government is taking a strong line on allowing French citizens to vote anywhere on Canadian territory in the election: “French citizen and New Yorker Julien Balkany hopes to be elected as a Member of Parliament to represent the nearly 190,000 French citizens living in North America. For the first time, about two million French citizens who live outside France will elect 11 legislators to the French National Assembly, an exercise for which France has carved the world into 11 electoral districts. One seat up for grabs is “North America,” which includes Canada and the United States, home to about 200,000 French nationals. Mr. Balkany, 30, is one of seven candidates for that seat … But the Canadian government is less than thrilled, and is mulling ways to shut down the French vote in June, leading to an escalating diplomatic spat between Canada and France, two long-time allies. Last week, Foreign Affairs “summoned” the French ambassador, Philippe Zeller, for an official dressing down, said Joseph Lavoie, press secretary to John Baird, the Foreign Affairs Minister. “No authorization has been given to France to permit it to include Canada in an extraterritorial electoral district,” Mr. Lavoie said. “We summoned the ambassador to tell him of our disappointment with the French government’s decision to ignore this Canadian policy, aimed at upholding Canadian sovereignty and reducing foreign interference in Canadian domestic affairs.” While Canada has said France may not place ballot boxes on Canadian soil, France responded this month by saying it would go ahead with the election, and plans to place ballot boxes in its embassy and French consulates in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Moncton, which, technically, are sovereign territory of France. But now Ottawa is looking at how it might shut down even that vote, according to an official source. “This is a very dicey situation,” the official said. “What degree do you go to, to enforce [our policy]?”

The first electoral district for French residents overseas mentioned in the National Post report (première circonscription des Français établis hors de France) is one of 11 districts each electing one representative of French citizens overseas to the French National Assembly. It covers all French citizens living in Canada and the United States. This and other districts will elect their first ever representatives at the 2012 elections).

Some facts about the election: A French president can serve for two five-year terms and candidates must be French citizens. In order to stand they must first gather 500 signatures from elected officials (eg.mayors). Those who sign are sometimes called sponsors, though their signatures don’t necessarily imply support for a candidate’s ideas. The names of the sponsors are published shortly before the election date so mayors are careful about giving their signatures. The rule is designed to limit the number of frivolous candidates.

The president is directly elected by the French people, no electoral colleges as in USA. Voters must be French citizens aged 18 or over and voting is not compulsory.

The election nearly always has two rounds. In theory, if any candidate wins an absolute majority (50% of the vote plus at least one extra vote) he or she is immediately elected. In practice, this has never happened. Usually the two candidates with the highest scores in round one, face each other in a second round, held 14 days later. A candidate who comes second in the first round could win the presidency if he has broader support in the second round.

Elections are always held on Sundays.

Voting in French overseas constituencies in the Americas (eg. French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe) as well as embassies and consulates there, takes place on Saturdays by way of a special exemption.

Story: Ken Pottinger

UPDATE: François Bayrou, the centrist candidate in the presidential elections told France 2 TV February 12 that if Marine Le Pen “were to make a public declaration to the effect that she lacks the signatures she requires” to be on the ballot, the leaders of France’s largest democratic groups should be concerned and meet to discuss the matter, as such a development would be a “failure to respect France’s democratic contract.”

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