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France faces political paralysis: Four scenarios for the French elections

French President Emmanuel Macron could end up with a prime minister and a government from a different party in a system known in France as “cohabitation”. What is the process for forming a new government? What happens if there is no majority? How do the president’s and parliament’s powers compare?

A stunning victory for France’s far-right Rassemblement National in the EU elections this month left France reeling, and its President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election. In a two-round process on 30 June and 7 July, France will go to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament.

With its unique hybrid semi-presidential government system, the potential for no clear result to emerge throws up a series of hypothetical outcomes that could plunge France and Europe into uncertainty at a critical moment of global instability.

We look at the specificities of the French electoral system and political governance. How do the French elections work? What will be the possible outcomes in Paris? What will happen if there is no majority in the Palais Bourbon, and if Macron is forced to work alongside a political enemy in the Matignon, in an awkward political cohabitation.

How do legislative elections work?

There are 577 seats in the National Assembly. The MP’s role is to propose, amend and vote on laws.

On the first round of the elections on 30 June, French voters will choose one of the candidates running in their constituency.

If a candidate manages to get the absolute majority vote (more than 50% of the votes with at least 25% of voters registered), they automatically win. Unlike the presidential election, the abstention rate is, therefore, decisive.

At the end of this first round, if no candidate obtains an absolute majority, a second round is organised for 7 July.

Any candidate that has obtained more than 12.5% of the vote can advance to the run-off.

The candidate with the most votes in the second round wins a seat in the National Assembly.

How does the French system of government work?

France has a unique system of governance described as a hybrid regime with a president but also a powerful parliament.

Unlike most other countries with a parliamentary system (think of the UK or Canada), the head of state is elected directly by the people, giving the head of state visibility and legitimacy.

The Constitution of 1958 is the one that governs France’s political system called the Fifth Republic.

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