French mayor and party leader of the Democratic Movement François Bayrou will help the nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen to run for President to “save democracy”. Opinion polls regularly show Le Pen in second position for France’s 2022 presidential election but she may not be eligible to be a candidate.
François Bayrou announced February 27 on French television that he will sponsor Marine Le Pen to help her become a candidate at the next presidential election scheduled in April 2022.
Bayrou is the leader of MODEM, for Democratic Movement, a political party that he created and positioned at the center of the political spectrum. Close supporter of the current president Emmanuel Macron, he has yet decided to sponsor Marine Le Pen, Macron’s potential strongest opponent to the presidential bid.
Marine Le Pen is the leader of the Rassemblement National, a nationalist far-right political party. She often appears to come second with three other candidates behind Emmanuel Macron in opinion polls for the next presidential election. During the last one in 2017, she qualified for the runoff with Emmanuel Macron but lost against the current president with 34% of votes.
But she may not be able to run for the next election. It would be a first since 1981 that her party, formerly led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen who lost the presidential bid in the runoff against Jacques Chirac in 2002, doesn’t propose a candidate for the presidential elections.
A lot of sponsors from elected officials
French presidents are elected by direct popular vote in a two-round election. The two candidates who gathered the most ballots in the first round hope to be elected in the second (be elected by absolute majority in the first round is possible but has never occurred since the election became a direct popular vote in 1962).
But to be eligible to the French presidency, candidates need to gather at least 500 signatures from 42,000 French elected officials, including the 36,000 city mayors of the country.
Marine Le Pen along with Eric Zemmour, another nationalist potential candidate credited to approximately 15% of ballots for the first round in polls, still lack 17% of the 500 required signatures, or “parrainages”.
And the deadline to collect them is March 4, in four days.
Le Pen last week said she stopped her political campaign to gather enough signatures.
As a consequence, Bayrou, as mayor of Pau a city in southwestern France of 76,000 people, decided to give one to Marine Le Pen. But with a “little twinge in the heart” for the former presidential candidate who finished third in 2007.
Political opponents of the far-right would usually prefer that such candidates don’t run for presidential election at all.
But Bayrou justified his decision because he didn’t accept that the “President of the French Republic would be elected in a election where the main candidates are excluded” from participating. “The presidential elections would be in danger if the main candidates who promote ideas that [show a growing trend] could not run, despite the fact that I find these ideas unbearable”.
He isn’t the only politician to support a candidate against his own political opinion. The mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, from the Republican right-wing party gave his signature to the left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon last week. Mélenchon has now collected enough signatures to run.
A recurrent criticism from aspiring presidential candidates
The process of patrons from elected public officials has always been in place in France for validating a presidential candidate since 1962.
The required number of signatories grew to 500 in 1976 and became public for the 1981 presidential election. From 1981 to 2012, 500 signatures for each candidate were randomly publicly disclosed out of all the signatures collected by the candidate.
An elected official can sponsor only one candidate but several candidates can collect more than 500 sponsors. It’s the case for Emmanuel Macron who gathered more than 1,500 signatures even though he didn’t officially declare his candidacy yet.
Since the last presidential election in 2017, all signatures are made public.
Publicly revealing signatories has been criticized by aspiring candidates who struggle to reach the threshold before every presidential elections.
And as local French elected officials become ever more subjects to harsh criticism and threats from a fragmented society, many are shy of backing a candidate. Because signing a sponsorship and becoming a patron is widely seen as supporting the candidate’s ideas.
Letting Le Pen run ‘to save democracy’
Bayrou recently launched a platform centralizing 380 available signatures to “save democracy. But our signature isn’t a support.”
Since its peak in 2022 with 17,815 signatures from 42,000 public officials, the number of backers has constantly decreased. With less than one week left for potential candidates to validate their candidacy, only 10,265 people, 1 in 4, supported a candidate. It accounts for a 30% decrease from 2017.
Historically strong political parties usually get the required number of signatures. But smaller independent candidates like Jean Lassalle, who embodies a popular provincial image despite having collected only 1,2% of votes in 2017, has also been able to gather the 500 supports for 2022.
Update March 1: Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour reported enough signatures to run for President. François Bayrou didn’t give his signature yet.