Reforms could see National Front securing foothold

 

France’s far-right National Front and smaller political parties could gain a firm foothold in parliament under plans to reform the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

A report on standards in public life, commissioned by President François Hollande, recommended that 10 per cent of members of the lower house should be elected by proportional representation.

Despite regularly polling in the mid-teens in general elections, the National Front has just two deputies in the 577-seat National Assembly, while small left-wing groups rely on pacts with bigger parties to secure a presence there.

The National Front would also stand to benefit from the report’s proposal to change the system for presidential nominations so that anyone with 150,000 citizens’ signatures would be allowed on to the ballot paper.

The Front has been a critic of the current system, which requires prospective candidates for the Élysée Palace to present signatures from 500 local mayors.

The party has complained that local elected officials from mainstream parties are often afraid to put their name to the public nomination papers of a far-right candidate.

Under the proposed reform, the 150,000 signatures would have to include citizens from at least 50 départements, but their identities would not be publicly disclosed.

The commission, chaired by the socialist former prime minister Lionel Jospin, was designed to restore confidence in public life and reform France’s political system.

It recommended scrapping the immunity presidents enjoy in respect of their actions before taking office – an arrangement that meant former president Jacques Chirac was tried in 2011 over a scandal dating from 1990.

The proposed change would also mean a president could be pursued over criminal or civil claims relating to actions carried out while in office as long as they were unconnected to the role of president itself.

The Jospin commission also recommended blocking government ministers and deputies from holding local elected offices such as mayor or chair of a local council.

The dual mandate has been a source of recurrent controversy in recent years, but attempts to end the practice have faced strong opposition from within all the major parties.

“We need parliamentarians who are anchored on the ground and who know local life,” said Gérard Longuet, defence minister in the cabinet of conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The proposals, which Mr Hollande said he hoped to implement next year, drew a mixed response, with some commentators arguing they were too modest.