For those who don’t live in the Hexagon or keep up with politics here, the first round of the regional elections is happening tomorrow. There are 13 regions in France; until this year there were 22 but François Hollande and his Socialists decided, for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, that 22 was too many and that the apparently too-small regions needed to be larger. So Hollande had his Socialists push through a stupid, half-baked law earlier this year—that only graduates of ENA, of which Hollande is one, could cook up—to force through a merger of a few—but that absolutely no one in the affected regions understood or wanted—to bring the number down to 13. For those interested, the old map is here, the new one here.
The regional councils don’t have a lot of power—considerably less so than state legislatures in the US—though have some responsibilities—mostly technical—and the budget to go along with them. But most people don’t think about the councils too much, so the participation rate in regional elections is relatively low (46% in the last ones, in 2010). The mode de scrutin (electoral system) is proportional list in two rounds. It used to be in one round, through the 1998 elections, thereby allowing for the theoretical possibility of ad hoc coalitions. When the political system was bipolarized—with a left and right pole—coalitions didn’t need to happen, but with the Front National’s breakthrough that year, the then Socialist-led government decided to modify the electoral system, with a majority bonus awarded to the list arriving in first place in the second round, the idea being that this would prevent the FN from holding the balance of seats in a hung council.
Brilliant Socialists. Now that we have a tripolar system in France—with the FN being one of the poles—Marine Le Pen & Co. could well take control of three—or even more—of the regional councils after the second round next Sunday. This didn’t need to happen but, with the current mode de scrutin, most likely will. Electoral systems matter. The above map shows, based on the latest polling data, which list will finish in first place where and by what magnitude. The black/gray is FN, blue is LR (Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party), the red/pink the PS (as for the Front de Gauche and écolos, they’re non factors). Bleak, as my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer puts it in a post today (N.B. the important article he links to by Nonna Mayer).
I’ll be an assesseur titulaire (election judge) at my own polling station tomorrow (representing the PS, whom I will probably vote for, out of pity). It will be interesting to see how many of my neighbors vote FN (I fear the worst). Post-election commentary will follow on Monday or Tuesday.