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France's presidential election system

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(CNN) -- Voters will go to the polls on April 22 to elect the sixth president of the Fifth Republic of France.

The French use a two-round system to choose who moves into the Elysee Palace. Unless a candidate obtains a majority of the vote in the first round, the top two contenders face off in a second round of voting to determine a winner. The runoff election is held on the second Sunday after the first ballot (in this case May 6) and the candidate with the most votes will take office.

Before the newest republic was established, older parliamentary systems left the office of the president virtually powerless. The constitution establishing the Fifth Republic -- the current system of French government -- was adopted in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle, who also served as its first president.

A constitutional revision in 1962 dissolved the Electoral College, allowing for a powerful president elected in a direct vote.

The president governs in tandem with the parliament, a weaker two-pronged legislative body comprising the Senate and the National Assembly. While the office of the president shares powers on issues of legislation, it enjoys a great deal of individual authority.

Like the United States, France gives its president a lot of power in comparison to older governments and its European neighbors. The president appoints a prime minister and can use his authority to disband the assembly, call for a referendum and activate emergency powers. The president is the tip of the spear on all diplomatic issues and is the commander and chief of the armed services with final say on all defense and military issues. Presidential power in this regard was greatly expanded after the development of France's nuclear deterrent in 1960.

French governance has changed many times since the French Revolution in 1789, with lawmakers amending subsequent constitutions over the years. For example, as recently as 2000, an amendment was passed shortening the presidential term from seven years to five years.

-- Compiled by Zein Basravi for CNN


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