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Cablegate: The Abc's of France's April 22 and May 6

VZCZCXRO0420
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHFR #1566/01 1081732
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADAADB4C MSI8947 611)
O 181732Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6587
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE PRIORITY 1670
RUEHSR/AMCONSUL STRASBOURG PRIORITY 0398

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 001566

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE,DRL/IL,INR/EUC,EUR/ERA,EUR/PPD,
AND EB
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y--PARA 2, LINE 12--"1962" VICE "1969"
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR PINR SOCI ECON
SUBJECT: THE ABC'S OF FRANCE'S APRIL 22 AND MAY 6
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION


PARIS 00001566 001.6 OF 003


1. (U) SUMMARY: The French presidential election is a
single, national election in two rounds; it is, above all, a
personal election by universal, direct suffrage absent
reference to party affiliation. France's voters (except for
the small portion that will use electronic voting machines)
will choose by depositing a piece of paper bearing their
preferred candidate's name into the ballot box at 56,000
different polling stations. The first round of the election
will take place Sunday, April 22; the second round will take
place Sunday, May 6. A record 44.5 million citizens are
registered to vote in this election, and a record turn-out --
possibly as high as 85 percent -- is anticipated. Election
results (barring near ties in vote totals) will be known by
about 8 p.m. on each election day, extrapolated from the
results at a representative set of polling stations.
France's Constitutional Council will ratify the final results
of each round. The president-elect and the out-going
president are free to arrange for the transfer of power
anytime between the Constitutional Council's formal
promulgation of the results of the May 6 second-round
elections and the May 16 expiration at midnight of the
outgoing president's term of office. END SUMMARY.

A SINGLE, NATIONAL AND PERSONAL ELECTION
----------------------------------------
2. (U) French political operatives vaunt the "democratic
directness and simplicity" of presidential elections in a
centralized state such as France, as opposed to the
complicated system in place in the United States. This is
so despite the fact that the election process features two
rounds, a plethora of candidates in the first round (12 this
year), and the complications of equal time provisions and
campaign finance ceilings. The features that the French
identify as making their presidential election process
distinctive are that it is "single, national and personal":
single because election day is dedicated to deciding the
occupant of a single, national office (the presidency);
national because the electorate is that of a single, national
constituency (all French citizens, in France and abroad); and
personal because it involves a rendezvous between an
individual and the people, as intended by General De Gaulle,
who changed the French constitution in 1962 to elect the
president by "direct, universal suffrage."

PROCEDURAL UNIFORMITY
---------------------
3. (U) These features of France's presidential electoral
process are reflected in the physical voting process. The
ballots only have the names of the candidates written on
them, without any political affiliation. The ballots --
hardly surprisingly in a highly centralized state with a bias
towards imposing uniformity in the interest of promoting
equality -- will be almost exactly the same throughout the
56,000 polling places in metropolitan France, its overseas
territories, and French consulates abroad. (Three percent of
voters will use electronic voting devices -- see below).

RECORD REGISTRATIONS SUGGEST RECORD TURNOUT
-------------------------------------------
4. (U) Never have so many French been registered to vote.
Almost 44.5 million citizens have signed up for the 2007
presidential and legislative elections, an increase of 3.3
million over the number of registered voters in the last
presidential election year (2002), and the highest
registration rate since the watershed presidential election
of 1981. Voter turnout in the first round of presidential
elections had been steadily declining since 1974, with the
abstention rate peaking at 28.4 percent of registered voters
in 2002. Analysts believe voters will turn out in record
numbers this year, with the predicted abstention rate ranging
from 15-20 percent for the first round.

AMONG THE YOUNG AND THOSE LIVING ABROAD
---------------------------------------
5. (U) This year there has been an exceptional surge in voter
registration among young people living in poor, immigrant
neighborhoods, an official Interior Ministry report notes.
While much press coverage has focused on the possible impact
of these first-time voters, urban youths among them, the
largest percentage increase in fact occurred among French
citizens living overseas. According to Interior Ministry
figures: 43,973,024 voters are registered in metropolitan
France and its overseas territories, with an additional
535,000 voters registered in consulates in foreign countries.
But the 535,000 figure does not take into account an

PARIS 00001566 002.5 OF 003


additional 285,000 voters who live overseas but are still
carried on local registration rolls in France. By these
calculations, a total of 820,000 French voters live overseas
in 2007, an increase of 160,000 ( 24 percent) over 2006.

56,000 POLLING PLACES
---------------------
6. (U) Voting in the first round will begin in the overseas
French Territories in the western hemisphere on April 21, a
day before the remainder of the French electorate begins
voting on April 22. Organized by the Ministry of the
Interior, the voting will be held in some 56,000 local
polling stations, each serving a maximum of 800-1000
registered voters. After providing proof of registration,
voters receive an envelope and a ballot for each candidate
(12 in the first round and 2 in the second). They then
proceed to a isolated voting booth where they place the
ballot of their preferred candidate into the envelope.
Voters then place the envelope into a ballot box which is
under the constant supervision of election officials and
political party observers. Voters sign a list before exiting
the polling station to prove they have voted.

LIMITED ELECTRONIC VOTING
-------------------------
7. (U) This year marks the first trial of electronic voting
in French presidential elections. Electronic voting has been
approved for towns with more than 3,500 registered voters.
About 3 percent of the French electorate, or 1.5 million
voters in 82 different localities, are expected to vote
electronically in 2007. However, both the centrist candidate
Francois Bayrou and some Socialist Party politicians have
called for a moratorium on voting electronically, citing
risks of fraud and error.

COUNTING THE VOTES
------------------
8. (U) On election day the polling stations close at 6 or 8
P.M. at the discretion of local officials. Counting begins
immediately thereafter, under the supervision of locally
appointed commissions which include representatives from each
candidate. For towns with more than one polling station, a
special committee centralizes the tallies and checks them
against the lists of registered voters. The local totals are
then called in to the Interior Ministry where they are added
to the national tally. Local officials are banned from
dealing with irregularities or complaints, and are also
prohibited from releasing any results or projections until
the polls have closed in all locations.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS STARTING AT 8 P.M.
-------------------------------------
9. (U) On election day French media outlets are prohibited
from disseminating unofficial projections until after the
polls close. The applicable law prohibits "publication,
commentary and dissemination by any means of any polls on the
eve and on the day of the election." However, estimates by
polling organizations or purported leaks of the counts coming
in to the Interior Ministry could begin circulating (on web
sites based outside of France and by SMS text messages) hours
earlier. A number of well-known commentators have vowed to
defy the law this year and post, on their political blogs
based in France, the preliminary estimates circulating in
media and political circles. At 8 P.M. mainstream media will
disseminate the first estimate of the national results. This
unofficial "exit poll" (compiled by public opinion survey
companies) is normally very accurate, except in the case of a
close race. This year the Interior Ministry is expected to
begin posting the official local results on its website at
about 9 P.M. All results are expected to have been tallied
and posted by 3 A.M. the next morning. The Interior Ministry
will also disseminate, soon after 8 P.M., a tally of results
from a group of selected polling places that model the
electorate at large.

OFFICIAL RESULTS FOR SECOND ROUND WITHIN DAYS
---------------------------------------------
10. (U) France's Constitutional Council reviews and ratifies
all election results; it is the final arbiter in all election
disputes. The Council is expected to publish a breakdown of
the official results on its website by no later than 8 P.M.
on Wednesday, April 25. The official ballot for the second
round of elections will be released on Friday, April 27.

SAME PROCEDURES FOR SECOND ROUND

PARIS 00001566 003.5 OF 003


--------------------------------
11. (U) The second round of voting will begin in France's
departments and territories in the western hemisphere on May
5, but voters in France will go to the polls on Sunday, May
6. As with the first round, an unofficial exit poll will be
released at 8 P.M. that night. The Interior Ministry will
then make an unofficial declaration of the winner on Monday,
May 7. The official winner must be declared by the
Constitutional Council within four days of the election, that
is, by Thursday, May 12.

HANDOVER OF POWER
-----------------
12. (U) Article 6 of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic
reads "The President of the Republic is elected for five
years by direct, universal suffrage." One result of this is
that the start of the incoming President's term is determined
by the end of the outgoing President's term. President
Chirac's first term was officially declared ended as of
midnight May 16, 2002 by the Constitutional Council when it
announced the results of 2002's second round. Five years
later is midnight Wednesday, May 16, 2007. The transfer of
power between Chirac and his successor then must happen in
the interim between the Constitutional Council's declaration
of the second round winner (which it is required by law to
declare within four days of the election) and the end of
Chirac's term. The incoming and outgoing presidents are free
to arrange for the transfer of power between them anytime
during that period. Many observers suspect that the
inauguration of the new president might take place over the
week-end of May 12-13, but it could take place as late as
Wednesday, May 16.

INAUGURATING THE WINNER
-----------------------
13. (U) The inauguration consists of a brief ceremony at the
Elysee Palace at which the election results are read out,
pursuant to which the new president signs a decree beginning
his or her term of office. It is customary for the new
president then to proceed to France's tomb of the unknown
soldier at the Arc of Triumph, lay a wreath as Commander in
Chief, and then return to the presidential palace via a small
parade down the Champs-Elysees. These inaugural ceremonies
have not, in the past, included any role for high-level
foreign government representatives.
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm

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