Key facts about the French parliament

Key facts about the French parliament

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France's National Assembly in the Palais Bourbon on the banks of Seine was first called together during the French Revolution.

The term of the National Assembly (or lower house of parliament) is five years; however, the President of the Republic may dissolve the Assembly (eg by calling for new elections) unless he has dissolved it in the preceding twelve months. 

A total of 7,639 candidates will be competing to fill the 577 seats in the Assembly, which sits in a classical column-fronted building facing the River Seine in central Paris.

Voting takes place under a constituency-based simple majority system, but in two rounds.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round, any contender with more than 12.5 percent of the registered vote is allowed to stay in the race for the second round, which takes place on June 17.

In practice, however, the leading parties usually strike deals whereby less well placed candidates agree to stand down, often in exchange for reciprocal favours in other constituencies. This gives rise to intense horse-trading between the two rounds.

Boundaries of the 577 constituencies, of which 22 represent overseas territories, are drawn up on the basis of national censuses, with each one supposed to contain around 100,000 voters. The current boundaries were set in the 1980s, and a revision is likely during the term of the next Assembly.

The French parliament - which also includes the upper house or Senate, elected by indirect suffrage -- has fewer powers than its opposite numbers in many other democracies.

Its ability to block or amend legislation is limited by the powers of the government, which is itself often beholden to France's powerful head of state.

The president can under certain circumstances dissolve parliament and call new elections, and the constitution allows the government to force through laws without a vote, a controversial procedure which new President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will abolish.

The government also has full control over the parliament's order of business, which reduces the scope for individual initiatives by deputies.

Sarkozy has said he will further boost the parliament's role by allowing it to approve certain key appointments, and amend the constitution to allow the president to directly address one or the other of the chambers.

A total of 271 members are also mayors of towns or villages, and a further 223 are local or regional councilors. This doubling-up of mandates is a peculiarity of French politics.


AFP / Expatica

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