THE BLOG

French Presidential Election: New Rules for 2017

This week, Barack Obama reset the bar in his second debate again Mitt Romney. At least that is what most U.S. Commentators have been saying about the exchange between the president and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The third and final debate, devoted to foreign policy, will take place on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida. There will then be just 15 days before votes are cast on November 6.

Just yesterday, journalist Alain Duhamel devoted his daily column on French radio station RTL to the importance of these televised debates in the American campaign. He ended it with a cry from the heart, saying he was certain that by 2017 the French elections would see several debates, just as in the United States.

Could you imagine, as Duhamel did, that several debates might replace THE unnecessarily sacralized debate that always takes place between the two rounds of the French presidential election, between the two "finalists?"

If you remember correctly, this was one of Nicolas Sarkozy's main demands in the last presidential election.

More out of political calculation than conviction, the outgoing president wanted to face François Hollande several times in a public arena. Having been beaten by all the polls for months on end, he figured that he was more likely to beat back his opponent if he could face him two or three times on television.

We will never know if Nicolas Sarkozy was right, but we do know what happened during that sole debate last spring. In addition, it should be remembered that in 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy refused and mocked the debate proposed by Ségolène Royal and François Bayrou.

But just because Nicolas Sarkozy called for these debates too late does not mean that he was wrong in the end! Quite the contrary! In fact, the timing is perfect. We now have the chance to enact significant changes (within politics and the media) by 2016 (a year before the election) that will allow our democracy to flourish rather than shrink.

Imagine ...

A presidential election where each party (or each side), already "animated" by internal televised debates, could designate its candidate before the open primaries ...

An election in which the presidential system rendered completely obsolete by the 500 necessary sponsorships by elected officials would be replaced by a direct election, the winner needing to earn a set amount of support from voters ...

A race where presidential political advertising is allowed. Yes, I know I'm going to make some of you scream, but I think this is necessary to maintain a vigorous standard of debate. Candidates should be given the tools to criticize their opponents, as in the United States !

A presidential election in which all the polls would close at the same time, in both the first and second round, to bring equality between voters (I've been asking for this since 2007) ...

In which presidential polls would be prohibited - truly prohibited! - during the last two weeks of the election, so that voters are not influenced by investigations or rumors. Yes, I know, fellow pollsters, this will be frustrating, but you have enough time during the rest of the year to sell your wares...

In which the presidential candidates, and I mean ALL presidential candidates would confront one another in one or two debates organized before the first round of the election (it was IMPOSSIBLE to organize debates in 2012, even on the Web)...

An election in which live fact checking, in real time, would allow us to confront the candidates with their mistakes, their lies, and their efforts to mislead us (on television and radio, not just social networking sites)...

A presidential election during which broadcasters would no longer be constrained by rules of strict equality regarding speaking time among candidates, while on the web or in the newspapers, nobody has ever respected or been concerned with this "balance" of opinions...

And finally, an election in which the two presidential candidates selected by voters in the second round would face each other in three thematic debates ...

PS: In this list I have deliberately left out Internet voting and voting machines, because I am not at all convinced by these systems. However, early voting the way the Americans have should be taken in consdieraton.

Do you agree with these proposals (including the three debates)?

Do you have any other ideas to stimulate our democracy?

Update to the original post: There have been some very interesting opinions put forth by some of our readers in the comments sections. Notably, a big oversight on my part was not taking into account empty ballots. Of course, I strongly support this measure. In terms of my proposals, political advertising made many cringe, stopping political polling left many in disbelief, and as for the debates, not everyone sees the benefit. But I remain convinced that there will be several debates in 2017. And there is one ambiguity I'd like to clear up: these proposals are not about importing the "American system." Rather, they're about taking the best features and adopting them to fit our own needs. I am quite certain that the next election will be totally unique and full of new features, some of which are being discussed today.

This post originally appeared at Le Huffington Post and is translated from French.