Four main differences distinguish the election method of deputies from that of senators.
National Assembly deputies are elected by direct universal suffrage, and senators by indirect suffrage (Article 24, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Constitution).
The Constitution lays down that an institutional Act shall determine the length of the mandate of parliamentarians. In its most recent drafting, the institutional text sets forth that ‘the powers of the National Assembly shall expire on the third Tuesday of June of the fifth year following its election.’ The effective length of a term can be shortened by dissolution; depending on the date of the dissolution, the following term can also be shortened. Senators have a six year mandate.
The National Assembly is renewed fully; the Senate is renewed by half every three years.
The President of the Republic can dissolve the National Assembly, but not the Senate.
The Vth Republic has returned to the dominant electoral system of the IIIrd Republic, a two-ballot majoritarian system in single-member constituencies, there being between two and twenty-four constituencies per department depending on its population.
The electoral Act currently in force, which reintroduced the majoritarian system in single-member constituencies, after a proportional episode, is Act no. 86-825 of 11 July 1986. There are 577 deputies broken down as follows:
Metropolitan France 555
Overseas departments 15 (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion)
Overseas territorial units 2 (Mayotte, Saint Pierre and Miquelon)
Overseas territories 5 (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna)
- The French of both sexes, over 18 years old and enjoying their civic rights, can vote. The age of electoral majority was fixed as 18 by the Act of 5 July 1974.
- The French of both sexes, aged at least 23, are eligible.
At the same time as the candidate, a ‘possible alternate’ must also stand, as he will be required to replace the candidate in a certain number of cases.
- To be elected in the first ballot, a candidate must receive the absolute majority of the votes cast and a number of votes equal to a quarter of the number of registered voters.
The second ballot takes place on the Sunday following the first balllot.
- To be a candidate at the second ballot, one must have: been a candidate at the first ballot and obtained a number of votes equal to 12.5% of the registered voters.
- At the second ballot, a relative majority suffices.
The duties of member of the Government shall be incompatible with the exercise of any parliamentary office pursuant to Article 23 of the Constitution. This has required the establishment of a system of alternates.
Articles L.O. 176-1 and L.O. 319 and 320 of the electoral code set forth that parliamentarians whose seat becomes vacant following their appointment to the Government are replaced until the expiry of their mandate by persons appointed for this purpose. An alternate also steps in if the holder of the seat dies, is appointed to the Constitutional Council or pursues a governmental assignment for more than six months, but not if he resigns, as this leads to a partial election.
Once the alternate has become a parliamentarian he cannot run against the former holder of the seat when the assemblies are renewed.
The Constitution of 1958 withdrew from the assemblies their validation of the election of their members and tasked the Constitutional Council not with ‘verifying the powers’ of all elected representatives, unlike under the previous system, but with ruling only on contested electoral operations.
Only adjudicative, the powers of the Constitutional Council are less broad for legislative elections than for presidential elections and referendums, regarding which it must not only rule on complaints but also ensure the proper conduct of electoral operations and declare their results.
Petitions must be sent by a voter of the constituency or by a candidate, to the exclusion of a representative of the State or of an association. They must be sent ‘within ten days following the declaration of the election results’, either to the Secretariat-General of the Constitutional Council, or to the Prefect, or to the representative of the State in the case of an overseas territory. Petitions must state the cancellation grounds advanced; most of them are based on the way electioneering is conducted.
Petitions do not have any suspensory effect and do not prevent the exercise of a mandate. As long as the Constitutional Council has not ruled, the implementation of the rules on incompatibilities and limitations on multiple mandates is deferred.
The settlement of contested elections is not limited by any timeframe.
Article 41 of the institutional ordinance no. 58-1067 of 7 November 1958 on the Constitutional Council sets forth two types of decision on contested elections. The Constitutional Council can declare a contested election void or reverse the declaration made by the electoral returns committee and declare elected the validly elected candidate. However the Constitutional Council has never made use of this possibility to substitute another candidate for the one declared elected.
Without cancelling or substituting, the Council can limit itself to rectifying the results.
A mandate can be terminated during a term because of:
Death. When a deputy dies, the minister for the interior sends a letter to the President of the Assembly stating the date on which the seat became vacant, as well as, if applicable, the name of the person called on to replace the deceased parliamentarian.
Acceptance of incompatible duties, such as governmental duties or the post of a member of the Constitutional Council.
A parliamentarian appointed a member of the Government is deemed to have opted for this post if he has not expressed the opposite desire within one month from his appointment (Article L.O. 153 of the electoral code). During this period, he cannot take part in any election. In case of appointment to the Constitutional Council, the option period is eight days (Article L.O. 152).
Prolongation beyond six months of a temporary assignment entrusted by the Government. The seat is considered vacant from the time of the prolongation decision (Article L.O. 144).
The cancellation of an election pronounced by the Constitutional Council, materialised by the decision being notified to the Assembly.
Voluntary resignation, which can be effective only for a deputy whose election is not contested.
Disqualification noted by the Constitutional Council, on a reference from the Bureau of the Assembly or from the Minister of Justice, when a cause of ineligibility appears after election (Article L.O. 136).
Compulsory resignation pronounced by the Constitutional Council on application by the Bureau of the Assembly or by the Minister of Justice, pursuant to the rules on parliamentary incompatibilities (Article L.O. 151). The Constitutional Council also requires the compulsory resignation of any candidate declared elected who has not filed his statement of patrimonial situation or else that of his campaign account or who has exceeded his electoral expenditure ceiling (Articles L.O. 128, L.O. 135-1 and L.O. 136-1).
Election of a deputy to the Senate. However, in the event of a contested election, the vacancy of the seat is not declared until after the Constitutional Council’s decision confirming the election. Should an election be declared void, the initial mandate is restored.
When a seat becomes vacant, a partial election has to take place to fill it. Exceptions to this rule arise in two cases: no partial election is held in the twelve months preceding the expiry of the powers of the National Assembly (Article L.O. 178, paragraph 2); or when, a solution already mentioned, an alternate has to replace a parliamentarian (in the event of death, appointment to a ministerial post or to the Constitutional Council, or prolongation beyond six months of a temporary assignment entrusted by the Government).
The funding of electoral campaigns, like that of parties, is framed by legislation which has been progressively strengthened.
The law bans a certain number of electoral expenses. The Act of 11 March 1988 banned political advertising on radio and television. The Act of 15 January 1990, on the limiting of electoral expenditure and on the clarification of the funding of political activities, banned during the three months preceding an election ‘the use for electoral propaganda purposes of any kind of commercial advertising in the press or by any audiovisual communication means’ (Article L.52-1 of the electoral code). The same applies to telematic or phone marketing (Article L.50-1).
With reference to legislative elections, expenditure comprises in the first instance propaganda expenditure. This is directly covered by the State (cost of paper, printing of ballot papers and of election posters, billboard expenditure). The expenditure ceiling is set at € 38,000 increased by € 0.15 per constituency inhabitant. This ceiling is updated every three years to take account of the evolution of the cost of living. It was multiplied by a coefficient of 1.12 by decree no. 2002-350 of 14 March 2002.
- Private funding
The Act of 19 January 1995 on the funding of politics banned gifts by legal persons (i.e. mainly companies). A ceiling of €4,600 is placed on gifts from natural persons and any gift over €150 must be made by cheque. In addition, the global amount of gifts in cash must be lower than or equal to a fifth of the authorised expenditure ceiling.
- Public funding
The Act of 11 March 1988 added a lump-sum reimbursement to the traditional reimbursement of propaganda expenditure by the State. In 1988, the lump-sum reimbursement was set at 10% of the amount of electoral expenditure. To compensate the effects of the ban on funding by legal persons, the Act of 19 January 1995 increased the reimbursement to 50% of the ceiling.
To be entitled to this reimbursement, it is necessary to obtain at least 5% of the votes cast at the first ballot. Apart from candidates who have not obtained this 5%, the following are excluded from reimbursement: those who have exceeded the ceiling; those who have not respected the provisions on campaign accounts (see below); those whose account has been rejected; and those who have not filed their personal assets statement, whereas they were obliged to do so.
Each candidate is obliged to keep a campaign account detailing, according to their nature, all the income received and the expenditure made by himself or on his behalf during the year preceding the election.
To collect funds with a view to funding his campaign, the candidate appoints a single financial representative who opens a bank of post office account centralising all the campaign financial operations in the manner laid down by ordinance no. 2003-1165 of 8 December 2003 on administrative simplification in electoral matters.
The campaign account—of the elected and of the defeated—is sent within two months to the National Committee of Campaign Accounts and Political Funding, which reaches a decision within six months. It approves, rejects or rectifies the account.
Three types of sanctions are planned: pecuniary (non-reimbursement by the State of the reimbursable share); penal (fine); and electoral. In this latter case, the candidate declared a deputy loses his seat and is declared ineligible for one year by the Constitutional Council if the latter, on a reference from the National Committee of Campaign Accounts, observes that he has not presented his campaign account or that this account has been legitimately rejected by the Committee. The Council can declare ineligible, for the same duration, any candidate who has exceeded the legal ceiling of electoral expenditure (institutional Act of 10 May 1990).
According to Article L.O. 135-1—introduced into the electoral code by an institutional Act of 11 March 1988 and amended by another institutional Act of 19 January 1995—each deputy declared elected is obliged to establish a statement of his patrimonial situation, sworn to be exact and sincere, concerning the totality of his own property and, possibly, that of the community or the property deemed in joint ownership pursuant to Article 1538 of the Civil Code, in other words all property concerning which the declarant has a power of administration, of enjoyment and of free disposal or of joint disposal.
A first statement must be filed by the deputy with the Commission pour la transparence financière de la vie politique—Committee for the Financial Transparency of Politics within two months following his appointment. A further statement must be filed two months at the earliest and one month at the latest before the expiry of the deputy’s mandate or, in the event of the dissolution of the Assembly or of the termination of the deputy’s mandate for a reason other than death, within two months following the end of his duties. However, this new statement is not required if the concerned party has already filed, in another respect, a statement of his patrimonial situation since less than six months.
The Committee for the Financial Security of Politics brings before the National Assembly Bureau any case of a deputy who has not fulfilled his obligation to file one of the two patrimonial statements laid down by Article L.O. 135-1. The Constitutional Council, on a reference from the National Assembly Bureau, notes, where applicable, the case of ineligibility—a sanction which, pursuant to Article L.O. 128, lasts one year—and, by the same decision, declares, where applicable, the deputy’s compulsory resignation. Should the Committee note, after the concerned party has been given the possibility to present his remarks, changes in the patrimonial situation for which it is not supplied with explanations, it transmits the file to the public prosecutor’s office.
From 1871 to 1940, legislative elections were the only means of expression of the popular will. Since 1958, they have coexisted with two other universal suffrage consultation modes: the referendum (either constituant or legislative) and the election of the President of the Republic (from 1965). Therefore the whole electoral body is led to vote frequently nationwide.
In the event of a presidential election or of a referendum occurring during the session period, parliamentary work is generally suspended so that deputies can participate in the campaign prior to the vote. This is also the case on the occasion of municipal elections.