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Monday, May 29, 2017

Voting in the 11th District

Residents, native and foreign, in countries around the world may be surprised to learn that they are living in a legislative district of the French parliament.  Of course, these political boundaries are really only relevant to French citizens. (Or are they?) The rest of us (citizens and migrants of other countries alike) need pay no attention to them - unless they are as curious as I am about what they mean and how they work.

There are a total of 11 French overseas voting districts around the world.  Here is what the world looks like during a French election:

In each district the French abroad elect a representative (député) for the National Assembly (577 total seats for all districts at home or abroad) for a 5 year term.  The French abroad did have had senators for some time but it was only in 2012 that the first representatives of the French abroad were elected and installed in the lower house of the French parliament.

The 1st district is the US and Canada and they are represented at this time by Frédéric Lefebvre The 11th district includes Eastern Europe, Asia,  and Oceania - from the Kara, Barents and Laptev seas all the way south to the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea.  The current representative for this district is Thierry Mariani.  Follow the links to find out what they have done and what they are working on.  Full disclosure:  I have voters in my family in both districts.

There is no rule that candidates must live in or have connections to the overseas district they will represent.  And neither Mariani and  Lefebvre appear to have lived abroad, though Mariani has a Russian (naturalized French) wife and both candidates have travelled widely.  

Is that an issue?  Well, Mariani is running for a second term but it just so happens that there are two candidate challenging him for this seat who are a long-term residents of Asia:  Francis Nizet and Anne Genetet.  Both are making overseas experience a campaign issue.

Francis Nizet has been a French abroad for nearly 30 years. He has lived and worked in Africa, Southeast Asia and now lives in Beijing, China with his family.  An engineer by training and profession, he now a professor of science at a Chinese university.  His running-mate (the person who would replace him if he were incapacitated) iFrançoise Nédélec a lawyer by training who moved to China in 1994, first to Shanghai and then to Beijing where she is now the director of the Latin Languages program at the International School of Beijing

Anne Genetet has lived in Singapore for over 10 years.  A doctor by training and profession in France, she was "deskilled" in Singapore because she could not get her professional credentials recognized.  (Yes, folks, that is part of the "real world of many expat/migrants.)  So she became a consultant and journalist.  

Both of these candidates are playing up their experience living abroad saying essentially, "We know the concerns of our fellow French expatriates because we are you."   "Je connais vos preoccupations, je saurai faire avancer ces dossiers avec tenacite." (I know your concerns and I will know how to tenaciously make progress on those issues.") said Francis Nizet. In an interview Genetet talked about the positive reactions of her compatriots abroad to her candidacy saying, "What I've heard from the people I've met is that they are so happy to have a candidate who knows what it's like to be a French national living abroad."

And that raises an interesting question, doesn't it?  If you voted from abroad and had direct representation would you rather have a representative who has also lived abroad (perhaps in your region)?  Or would you prefer to elect someone well connected to the political world in the home country?


Tim said...

I believe the main candidate challenging Lefavre in the 1st district lives in Montreal. Additionally the incumbent candidate living in the 8th district lives in Israel. There have already been complications in the 8th as the incumbent MP has been quite vocal in French government policy with regards to Israel even though he is a dual French Israeli citizens. He was also endorsed by many high level Israeli government officials including PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tim said...

Another part of the French election not commonly recognized is there are also French territories basically all around the world that have representation in Paris separate from the MP who represent overseas French citizens such as New Caledonia, Tahiti, Reunion, Mayotte, St Pierre and Miquelon etc.

Ellen said...

Damien Regnard, running for election in North America, lives in Louisiana. His running mate lives in Canada, I believe. Regnard has been a member of the Assemblée des Français de l'Etranger for several years.

Andrew said...

When doing an analysis of the Canadian government's proposed indefinite extension of non-resident voting rights, found it interesting but not surprising that the creation of overseas constituencies resulted in much higher participation rates: about 60 percent of French non-resident voters compared to 15 percent American and 10 percent Australian.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Fascinating! Especially the story about the Israel rep. the right to vote plus actual representation does open up some interesting possibilities. And I can see, Andrew, why actual representation would make expats more motivated to vote. I think Americans abroad were hoping for a voice in domestic politics but as recents efforts have shown without an actual person defending his or her constituents the voice is diluted by politicians who much balance expat versus homelander considerations. The expats being outnumbered in the home country district usually lose this one.