Good Essay About Comparison Of The French And Russian Presidential Elections
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It is very interesting to compare and contrast a new from an old democracy. France has been exercising its electoral process since 1958 as it heralded Fifth Republic (France Country Website, p. 1). The French Republican President has been the pillar of its political traditions and institutions. Meanwhile, the 2012 presidential elections in Russia marked the first electoral process after its long entanglement with a non democratic form of government, socialism. Hence, the beginnings and the common prints of institutionalizing the elections are vivid. The contrasts are also intriguing, how a new democratic system shall spring out of the long term socialist state.
While both countries show good prospects for living up to the ideals of liberty, freedom and individual rights and a common representative form of government, both are also illustrative of the decays of democracy. At its onset, election frauds haunted the Russian elections (Lally & Englund, p. 1). Likewise, three officials of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 election campaign were also alleged to have violated the campaign budget limitations (RFI, p. 1).
While the French electorate took this as one of their common elections, the Russians were more eager and serious about their first national elections. The Russian people considered the 2012 election as a start of their efforts to build democracy (Bader, p. 522). Hence, this is very significant. It is a very promising revelation as compared to the more sophisticated election process in one of the sturdiest democratic government of France. Similarly, the 2012 French Presidential elections depicted a watershed moment for the French Left (Murray, p. 198). It delineated their return to a full term of executive power once again after 1981 (p. 198). This paper shall consider the commonalities and the marked differences between the new democracy of Russia and the steady democracy of France. The indications of their political principles and beliefs will be noted very well.
France and Russian Presidential Elections: A Vivid Comparison
The defining points of democracy are: 1.) the mandate of the elected officials since they are elected by the people; and 2.) the electoral system is the process by which the government is changed as opposed to the bloody processes like civil wars, coups, and the likes (Kuhn, p. 12). Democracy is about the popular choice and how the chosen leaders are to be accountable to their constituents.
In France, the President of the Republic is elected for a five year period. It is done in a direct suffrage, wherein the French citizens who are of majority age vote in a single or dual round of ballot voting (Kuhn, p. 13). Electoral activity is rendered by citizens who are of French nationality; aged eighteen or over on the day of the election; with civil and political rights; and physically present during the elections (p. 13).
If one candidate gathers an absolute majority, which is 50% of the votes plus 1, then, he or she becomes the elected president during the first voting round. However, this was not followed under the Fifth Republic (p. 13). As for most of the country’s elections, the Presidential poll is held under two rounds. The first round is open to any candidate who meets the requirements. (The requirements include the written support of 500 elected representatives from various agencies, i.e. deputies and mayors). Candidates should also have ample funds, like in any other open elections.
If there is no single candidate who gets an absolute majority of votes on the first round, a second round of voting ensues (France Country Website, p. 1). This is a straight run-off between the two candidates who gathered the most number of votes during the first round. The victor in this round then becomes President of France for five years of term. A French president is prohibited to serve more than two five-year terms in elected office (p. 1). This was enacted under the constitutional reform in July 23, 2008, wherein the tenure of the French President was limited to “two consecutive mandates” (p. 1).
In comparison, Russia is a federal presidential republic. Hence, its executive power is divided between the Russian President and its Prime Minister. However, the President is the dominant figure and the nominal head of the state (Lally, Kathy & Englund, p. 1). Their legislative branch of government is represented by the Federal Assembly of Russia. This is composed of two chambers: the State Duma, which is like the lower house in a common democratic government setting, and the Federation Council, which is the same as the upper house (Diamond & Plattner, p. 25). The judicial power rests in Russian courts and it is administered by the Ministry of Justice (p. 25).
Similar with the two round voting system in France, Russia’s presidential election is also directly voted by the citizens of the Russian Federation via a majority vote (Evans & Ivaldi, p. 19). It is held in one electoral district which is composed of the whole territory of the Russian Federation and its overseas voters (p. 19). A presidential candidate should gather a majority of the vote in order to be considered as being elected. If no candidate gatehred a majority of the vote, then, a second round of voting is conducted between the two candidates who got the highest votes (p. 20). However, it was only in 1996 when the two rounds of voting was conducted. This was when Boris Yeltsin failed to receive 50 percent of the vote during the first round (p. 20). A Russian president serves a six-year term in office and he/she cannot run once again after serving two consecutive terms (p. 20).
Role of French and Russian Presidents
The fifth article of the French Constitution states that he President of the Republic represents the state authority (p. 54). By arbitration, he/she ensures adherence to the by-laws, normal operation of the public authorities and the continuity of the state. In foreign affairs, the French President is the “guarantor” of national independence, territorial sovereignty and compliance to treaties agreed by France (p. 54). The Constitution has made the French President the Head of the Armed Forces (p. 54). He/she is also vested with principal diplomatic functions (p. 55). This is commonly known as a reserved domain.
The French President has the authority to appoint the Prime Minister (Kuhn, p. 12). He can also appoint all ministers, as advised by his/her Prime Minister. He/she heads the Council of Ministers, which is held at the Elysée Palace (p. 12). During cohabitation or when the President is working in a different political party than the majority of the members of parliament, he/she should appoint the Prime Minister from within the parliamentary majority (p. 12). The French President also has the power to hold a referendum to consult the French citizens for reforming their Constitution or adopting a certain law (p. 12).
The role of the Russian President is somewhat similar. He/she has a vast role in international affairs. Hence, the 2012 election was significant since after his election, President Putin affirmed their country’s new role as active participant in world events to defend Russian sovereignty and to declare that Russia is no longer a passive spectator in a unipolar Anglo-Saxon world (Diamond & Plattner, p. 32).
Originally, the Russian president enjoyed a four year term and this was amended into six years by the Russian parliament in 2008 (p. 32). Hence, Putin serves a six year term as the head of the Russian state. The President’s headquarters is in the Moscow Kremlin (p. 32). The Russian President decides on fundamental domestic and foreign policy, he is also the commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces. He can veto legislative bills and resolves issues of citizenship of the Russian Federation. The Russian President can also award state decorations and grant pardons (p. 33).
Political Process: Monitoring the Elections
The First Chapter of the Law on the Election of the President of the Russian Federation mandates each and every able citizen of the country, aged 18 and above to monitor the conduct of the presidential election and the work of the election commissions (Bader, p. 522). This includes knowing the official voting returns and election outcomes. Only presidential candidates, parliamentary parties and the mass media are allowed to appoint election monitors.
The Russian groups who monitor the executive election are not allowed to monitor the campaigns such as organizing telephone hotlines and websites by which citizens can report voting irregularities and updating the media about these alleged anomalies (p. 522). Organizations usually bypass this restriction by getting mandates from their candidates, parties and the media. They are enabled to closely watch the elections at certain polling stations (p. 523).
In response to alleged fraud, each of the 94,000 Russian polling stations is equipped with two web cameras (p. 522). The first continuously watches the ballot box and the other gives a general overview of the polling station and a computer. The cameras do not show the internal proceeding during the counting. The camera videos are available on a newly-created website to the general public, accessible through a link on the CEC’s website (“Elections in Russia,” p. 2). The footage is secured at the Russian regional election commission centers for a year after the presidential elections. Any person can access it (p. 2). All video from the vote count is recorded and made accessible after the end of voting.
In France, the polling stations are organized by prefectural decree on the French soil and by embassies for French citizens who vote overseas (“The European Elections Monitor,” p. 1). A polling station consists of a returning officer. He/she can be the mayor, a deputy mayor, a local councilor or a constituent assigned by the local mayor (p. 1). In the absence of a returning officer, an official replacement is tasked to do the job. The returning officer is responsible for the policing of the polling station. He/she is aided by the civilian and military authorities to prevent incidents and violence during voting (p. 1). There are at least two polling officers, tasked by the different presidential candidates, who are drawn from the local constituency (p. 1).
Each candidate or list may assign one officer. A secretary is also enlisted from among the districts’ constituents (p. 1). He/she serves as an advisor in any decisions taken by the polling station. He/she records the proceedings. Also, any presidential candidate can ask for the presence of a delegate authorized to monitor every aspect of the elections. Likewise, a number of scrutineers proceed with the counting of votes under the watchful eye of the polling officers (p. 1). These scrutineers are enlisted by the candidates, heads of list in attendance or delegates. In the event of their being outnumbered, polling station staff may take part in counting the votes. Lastly, in order to ensure a continuous monitoring of the electoral process, French law requires that two polling officers be permanently present at the polling station (p. 1).
Role of Political Parties
According to observers, France seems to have a multitude of political parties (Murray, p. 197). It only indicates the maturity of its political system. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, the French conservative governments were far more focused on economic intervention than in England. France’s principal "conservative" party is the UMP or the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (p. 1). It belongs to the largest political parties in the country and this has been so because UMP encompasses a normally general level of political perspectives, including conventional conservatives, social democrats, and also a neo-traditional right (Evans & Ivaldi, p. 58). It also seems like a Gaulle political party and the leader of "Gaullism" in the national political setting. (Gaullism can be aptly defined as the uniquely French kind of kind social traditionalism, with marked patriarchy and nationalism but the UMP’s Gaullism has moved well from this main description.) (p. 198).
In the parliament of France, the UMP party is linked with the moderate federation known as the "UDI" (France Country Website, p. 1). Established in 2012, it was an ally of the Radical Party and the "Nouveau Centre" (p. 1). The Parti Radical is the oldest political party in France and it is also a corporate member of the UMP at the meantime (p. 1). The other right-centered party is the MoDem or Mouvement Démocratique, which was created in 2007 (p. 1).
In Russia, the constitution acknowledges political plurality and a multi-party system (“Elections in Russia,” p. 1). The Russian federal law guarantees the equality of political parties before the law, regardless of the ideology, purposes and goals defined in their constituent and program documents. Citizens have the right to form, join and refrain from joining political parties (p. 1). The federal law, however, disbars the establishment of political parties on a professional, racial, national or religious basis (p. 1). The display of fascist symbols is also not allowed, although fascist paraphernalia is common in Moscow and St. Petersburg (p. 1).
The political parties should be located within the territory of the Russian Federation. They should have regional branches with at least 50 members in at least the majority of the 83 federal subjects of the Russian Federation, with majority of those branches having at least 100 members (p. 1). Political parties must also have at least 10,000 total members. A political party is the only type of organization admitted to regional and federal elections.
The only political party which has been established and registered since 2004 is the Right Cause, a generally pro-Kremlin party (p. 1). Even when Putin held a good position at the United Russia Party’s hierarchy, he was not a party member. The pro-Kremlin United Russia Party was established in 2003 by an alliance between the Unity Party, a center right party, and the Fatherland—All Russia Party, a center left party (p. 1). Apparently, this has remained the majority party in the State Duma (p. 1).
Elections Results and Its implications
The Socialist candidate Francois Hollande won over the incumbent French president Nicolas Sarkozy by a slim margin of 51.6% to 48.4% (Koyama, p. 1). This heralded a new and fresh political start as the citizens denounced the five year leadership of President Sarkozy. This was also the first time that a Socialist president won over the presidential seat in the last seventeen years (p. 1). Hollande signified the changes and reforms in economic policies, public service, fiscal policies, and employment (p. 1). In general, the elections represented the growing discontent of the French citizens.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Putin of Russia took over as the next president of the Russian Republic. This was expected since the Kremlin strongly managed the media, particularly their television (Tucker, p. 1). Being an administration candidate, he also had a greater access to resources. However, severe allegations of fraud marred his mandate. His presidency did not stop the political uncertainty which hounds the country. The democratic foundations in the country were still premature and frail.
Both the French and the Russian presidential elections illustrated the rawness and realness of politics in a democratic setting. There are electoral institutions and processes yet along the way, the political actors made some alterations of the ideal set up. Even when the utmost goal is to conduct a peaceful and honest election, for instance, the Russian and French elections were also marked by some controversies of fraud and deregulations. Some alleged that both the elected French and Russian leaders of fraud, corruption and even degraded their leadership with issues and controversies like human rights violations, in case of Putin, and corruption, in the case of the French leader.
The terms of governance have been different with each country compared and the roles of the executive heads are somehow similar. Both the 2012 Russian and French presidential elections are significant because these election are important because of the considerable influence the presidents have overall aspects of state policy, particularly in foreign relations (“Elections in Russia,” p. 1).
The citizens themselves are far more important than the political actors thrust into the arena of democratic leadership. The citizens of both Russia and France are the pivotal actors for which the democratic processes and institutions stand. They are the true representation of democracy as they establish a government by the people and for the people. Freedom is what the French and the Russian people both aspire for and they hoped to win it through an orderly, peaceful and honest election.
Bader, Max. Crowd sourcing election monitoring in the 2011–2012 Russian elections. East European Politics, 29(4). p. 521-535. DOI: 10.1080/21599165.2013.818979.
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