Presidential 2022: is the rule of 500 sponsorships of elected officials to be a candidate “obsolete”?

“It’s a circus…” At the end of the line, this campaign manager no longer hides his annoyance at the “bluff” of several candidates about their number of sponsorships collected to stand in the presidential election. In recent days, Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and Jean-Luc Mélenchon shoot with red balls on the current system, which imposes on all those who dream of settling in the Elysee Palace to first collect 500 signatures of elected officials out of some 42,000 parliamentarians, mayors, departmental, regional or territorial councillors. For this year, the Constitutional Council has set the deadline for collecting these initials on March 4, at 6 p.m.

But eight weeks before the deadline, and while the official period for collecting signatures does not begin until the end of January, the three candidates on waivers have continued to point out their respective difficulties in reaching the threshold of 500 sponsorships. “We struggle”, confided the candidate of the National Rally on BFMTV, Wednesday January 12, while the far-right polemicist defended himself later on the same antenna of “whin”, saying he is optimistic about his presence in the first round, with around 310 sponsorships garnered so far. The candidate of La France insoumise is a little ahead in this preliminary race in the ballot, with “a bit more” of 400 promises, assure his relatives. However, the deputy of Bouches-du-Rhône describes himself in a situation of “blocking”, as he lamented to the journalists gathered for the occasion at his campaign headquarters on Monday, January 10.

Real alert on a risk of absence in the election queen of the Fifth Republic or simple communication blow to mobilize sympathizers and elected officials? “About the number of sponsorships, everyone lies. Those who say they don’t have the sponsorships say that at every election”, continues the campaign manager. “We have this dramatization every five years with candidates who usually step up to the plate in January”, abounds with franceinfo Bruno Cautrès, political scientist at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po (Cevipof).

“It’s not easy to collect signatures, but highlighting the anti-system dimension of these elected sponsorships is an important springboard for populism.”

Bruno Cautrès, political scientist at Cevipof

at franceinfo

This is also a posture, underlines the constitutionalist Didier Maus, who recalls that“no significant candidate has been prevented from standing in a presidential election since the beginning of the Fifth Republic” and that he “there’s no reason to think it won’t work this year”. This also applies to “small” applicants. Jacques Cheminade was able to run for the 2017 presidential election, winning 65,586 votes in the first round, or 0.18% of the vote. Fourteen candidates failed to exceed the 500,000 vote mark in the last four presidential elections, including five in the 2017 election alone.

Never mind, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour are now ardently campaigning for a reform of the current regulations. They primarily target the law of April 2016 on the modernization of the rules of the presidential election, which makes public the list of all the sponsors of the candidates. Before that, only part of the 500 validated sponsorships were published, after a draw.

For Eric Zemmour, this law removing the relative anonymity of the signatures of elected officials is a text “iniquitous” and one “democratic scandal”, as he said on Europe 1. For his part, Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants “restore the anonymity of the sponsorships that François Hollande and Manuel Valls had suppressed in order to exert pressure” on elected officials.

The entourage of the former head of state assumes this increased transparency with franceinfo: “Is the fact that the sponsorships are public a deterrent factor? No doubt. The mayor of the small town of Salaunes, in Gironde, thus found himself challenged by his elected municipal officials because he announced that he was sponsoring Eric Zemmour, as reported South West.

Five years ago, the end of anonymity for sponsorships did not really lead to a drastic drop in the number of signatures. “Between 2012 and 2017, on the 42,000 elected officials likely to sponsor, we went from 36% to 34% of effective sponsorships”, explains Bruno Cautrès. Will it be the same in 2022, in a context of increasing pressure on elected officials, who are sometimes physically attacked? In an attempt to take some weight off their shoulders, many mayors make a concerted decision with their municipal council to settle this sometimes very sensitive issue at the local level.

Be that as it may, the government has decided not to accede to the demands of the protesting candidates. “We don’t change the rules of the game a few days before the match”, swept Gérald Darmanin on RTL, Tuesday, January 11. The Minister of the Interior also believes that “the rules can always change since the Constitution and then the law provide for it”. And this is precisely what Jean-Luc Mélenchon is proposing: the “rebellious” leader has made the introduction of citizen sponsorship one of his main measures to “a Republic allowing popular intervention”. And if he is campaigning for a threshold of 150,000 citizen signatures to be reached, the candidate of the radical left has endeavored to collect 270,000 for this presidential election.

There is nothing new in the measure defended by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In 2012, the commission for renovation and ethics in public life, known as the “Jospin commission”, already recommended replacing the 500 sponsorships of local elected officials with a threshold of 150,000 signatures from citizens. “We made this proposal to limit outlandish candidacies, but also because small candidates often manage to reach 200,000 or 250,000 votes in the first round of the presidential election”, remembers for franceinfo Ferdinand Mélin-Soucramanien, professor of constitutional law and member of the Jospin commission.

“We were inspired by what was being done in Portugal or Poland to propose a system of citizen sponsorship, which is logical for an election by direct universal suffrage.”

Ferdinand Mélin-Soucramanien, professor of constitutional law and member of the Jospin commission

at franceinfo

At the time, this track had been rejected by François Hollande, who advanced the “difficulty of its implementation”. “There are risks of pressure and the purchase of signatures. You have to be extremely vigilant”, today justifies the entourage of the former head of state. “It would be a huge job in terms of procedures and verification”, fears for his part the constitutionalist Didier Maus, “with a much longer collection period for sponsorships than today. We would have to check identity cards, make sure that everyone is registered on the electoral lists… It would have been, for example, incompatible with the calendar of Valérie Pécresse”. Lhe president of the Ile-de-France region was nominated as the Republican candidate in early December, just three months before the deadline to collect and verify tens of thousands of potential signatures. An argument refuted by Ferdinand Mélin-Soucramanien, according to whom the digitization of society now makes it possible to envisage such a device without administrative red tape.

“Obsolete”, according to this member of the Jospin commission, the current rule on sponsorships would benefit in his eyes from being open to society, in a clever mix between signatures of elected officials and initials of citizens. This is the path chosen in Europe in particular by Austria, Finland or Slovakia, with the participation of the various parties in the process. “This system would have two interests: to revalue the role of political formations and to avoid fanciful and adventurous candidacies”, advocates Ferdinand Mélin-Soucramanien. Bruno Cautrès, however, issues a warning to all those who would like to overturn the table: “There is no ideal system”, he believes when discussing a broader constitutional reform.

“In all cases, citizen sponsorships or not, you need a filter for access to the presidential election.”

Bruno Cautrès, political scientist at Cevipof

at franceinfo

“There must be, on this subject, a reflection at the beginning of the next five-year term to see if the rules must be adapted”, anticipates David Lisnard, president of the Association of Mayors of France (AMF), interviewed by Le Figaro on the possibility of helping Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen to reach the fateful bar of 500 elected sponsorships. Still, the three candidates should bring them together without any problem, according to the specialists interviewed by franceinfo. “The debate on a reform has an interest, but for next autumn, evacuates Didier Maus. There, as we say in ballistics, the shot is fired.”

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