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Blog Posted in avatar   Johnny Summerton's Blog

French presidential elections - Marine Le Pen and the 500 signature rule

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By Johnny Summerton
Posted Feb 22, 2012 in Politics
It's presidential election year here in France and the race is on to qualify for the first round.
Perhaps one of the decidedly weird, and in the eyes of some, not-so-wonderful quirks of the country's political system is the way potential candidates become eligible to stand in the first round.
In short (and of course as this is France, it's much more complicated than at first appears) they have to collect at least 500 signatures from the country's 47,000-odd elected representatives and submit them for validation to the Constitutional Council by March 16.
The pool of potential signatories includes the country's 37,000 or so mayors, parliamentarians - be they national or those representing France at the European level - as well as general and regional councillors.
Anyone failing to get enough support will not be allowed to stand.
The task of collecting those signatures isn't an issue for the two main parties as they crank up their campaigning machines fully prepared to slug it out in the first and probably second rounds.
But for the so-called "smaller" parties, it's a problem as the lists of officials who sign are made public (they have been since 1976) and, if you believe Marine Le Pen, that appears to present a particular for her far-right Front National.
The Constitutional Council has just rejected Le Pen's request that the list of signatures remain "anonymous" on the grounds that publishing the them ensures transparency of the acts of what are, after all, elected officials.
All of which means that with only 430 "promised" signatures so far, Le Pen could find herself "going down to the wire" just as her father Jean-Marie did in the last presidential elections in 2007 when he just managed 507 signatures.
Or she might fail to meet the required numbers altogether.
Now you might not agree with her politics but, if opinion polls are to be believed, there's no denying that Le Pen has some support among the French electorate; a fact she is often to be heard drumming home in the French media which seems to have decided that she is a credible candidate.
So should she be prevented from standing because of a law that some (and not just Le Pen) claim is undemocratic, weighted against smaller parties and encourages strong-arm tactics from the Big Two?
After all, with just a couple of weeks to go before that March 16 deadline, five of the other declared candidates still fall short of the 500 signatures required, among them former prime minister Dominique de Villepin and Frédéric Nihous, the leader of the Chasse, pêche, nature et traditions (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions party, CPNT) party.
Earlier this month François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist party Mouvement démocrate (Demoncratic Movement, MoDem) and himself a presidential candidate, suggested that the larger parties, including his, ensure Le Pen's name appear on the ballot by encouraging their elected officials to "sponsor" her, if needs be.
It was an idea not just rejected by the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) and opposition Socialist party but also Le Pen.

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