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France: The Presidential Election Through Foreign Eyes

While the French are preparing to choose a president in the upcoming weeks, French voters overseas and the foreign online media have reacted as the first round poll came to an end. Some peculiarities of the French electoral process, such as the ban on posting polling estimations in the media before 8 pm on election day, were intensely debated.

Drawing of Petar Pismestrovic in Austria shared by @alissabernathy on Twitter

Ban on tweeting election results before 8pm, even abroad?

In France, Law No. 77-808 of July 17, 1977 on the publication and dissemination of opinion polls [fr] prohibits the broadcast of the first estimates, before 8pm. With the ubiquitous rise of publications online, this ruling quickly became problematic to implement. Tefy Andriamanana, from Madagascar, summarizes the complexity and challenges of applying this law [fr].

As lawyer and famed French blogger Master Eolas explains on his blog, this method should also apply to the publication by French surveys in the foreign media [fr]:

Notons qu’ainsi rédigée, la loi interdit de faire un rappel de l’évolution des intentions de vote des candidats après vingt heures mais avant minuit le jour du scrutin, même une fois les bureaux de vote fermés et les estimations proclamées. C’est une pure maladresse de rédaction, mais la loi est la loi, je fais confiance au parquet pour être ferme (..) Les article 113 du Code pénal posent les règles d’application de la loi pénale française dans l’espace (pas au sens de “Des cochons dans l’espace”, mais dans le sens de sa territorialité). Ces règles sont les suivantes : la loi pénale française s’applique à toute personne se trouvant sur le territoire français, quelle que soit sa nationalité. Une infraction est réputée commise en France dès lors qu’un de ses éléments constitutifs est commis en France. On assimile au territoire française les bateaux battant pavillon français et les aéronefs immatriculés en France (article 113-4). Quand les faits sont commis à l’étranger, la loi française peut leur être applicable, à certaines conditions. Sans rentrer dans les détails, qui feront les tortures des étudiants de L2 de droit, la loi pénale française s’applique à l’étranger quand l’auteur est français, ET, condition cumulative, que les faits constituent un crime…

Note that written as it is, the law prohibits an overview of the evolution of the candidates’ voting intentions after 8pm, but before midnight on polling day, even after the polls are closed and the estimates are proclaimed. This is pure awkwardness of writing, but the law is the law, and I trust the prosecutor to be firm (..)Article 113 of the Penal Code [fr] sets forth the implementing rules of French criminal law in the area (not in the sense of “Pigs in Space” [fr], but in the sense of its territoriality). These rules are: French criminal law applies to any person on French territory, whatever their nationality. An offense is considered to be committed in France as long as one of its constituent elements is committed in France (Article 113-4 [fr]).  When the acts are committed abroad, French law can be applicable to them, under certain conditions. Without going into details, which will torture L2 law students, French criminal law applies abroad when the author is French, AND, cumulative condition, when the acts constitute a crime…

Many French abroad are surprised at this law and ask what would constitute a violation of this law. Paul asks [fr]:

créer un compte twitter qui vous envoie automatiquement les résultats (en avant-première) en DM n’est donc pas délictueux, puisqu’on reste dans la communication privée ?

Should the creation of a Twitter account, that automatically sends you the results (advance access) in DM, constitute a crime since it remains in private communication?

Joe poses the following hypothesis [fr]:

..Un agent provocateur Bordure, depuis son ordinateur de Szohôd (donc en Bordurie) décide de poster à 18h30 les premières estimations qu’il aura entendues à la radio Syldave sur un forum public, par exemple dans les réactions du blog d’un célèbre avocat blogueur Français…

L’agent Bordure ne risque rien (si j’ai bien compris la démonstration du Maître), mais est-ce que le responsable Français du forum peut être inquiété ?

An agent provocateur from Borduria (ed's note: made up country), since his Szohôd computer (thus in Borduria) decides to post, at 6:30pm, the first estimates that he will have heard on the Syldave radio on a public forum, for example in the reactions of the blog of a famous French lawyer blogger…The Bordurian agent does not risk anything (if I fully-understood the Master's demonstration), but is it the head of the French forum who may be worried?

Campaign Poster by JC Benoist on Wikimedia CC License -3.0-BY

Foreign internet users find that French law is rigid and outdated. Trésor Kibungala, a native of DR Congo blogs on North Africa [fr]:

Seulement voilà, depuis 1977, les choses ont changé. Les nouveaux médias sont arrivés et cette loi paraît inadaptée à la nouvelle donne. Déjà, les pays voisins de l’Hexagone ne se priveront pas de rendre public les résultats de la présidentielle française avant la messe de 20 heures. RTBF par exemple a déjà annoncé qu’elle dévoilera les résultats du scrutin à 18 heures 30 (..) Sur les réseaux sociaux, pas sûr non plus que les twittos obtempèrent. Certains ont commencé à mettre en place le dispositif Radio Londres. Une chose est sûre : on va bien rigoler ce dimanche sur twitter, facebook et autres. Mais, chut !@Tresor_k ne tweetera pas non plus les résultats avant 20 heures ! Rendez-vous sur les ondes de #RadioLondres.

The only problem is that, since 1977, things have changed. The new media have arrived and this law seems inadequate to the new circumstances. Already, the neighbouring countries of the Hexagon do not shy away from publicizing the French presidential elections results before the 8 o'clock mass. RTBF, for example, has already announced it will disclose the poll results at 6:30pm (..) On social networks, it is uncertain whether the Twittos will obey. Some have begun to set up the Radio Londres system [fr]. One thing is certain: we will have a good laugh this Sunday on Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. But, hush! @Tresor_k [fr] will not tweet the results before 8pm! Visit #RadioLondres.

Thus, Radio Londres, is the common thread on Twitter to comment on the elections in coded language without the risk of breaking the law. Radio Londres refers to a few minutes of daily program broadcast [fr] on British radio, BBC, to the first resistance fighters who had fled the German occupation entitled “The French Speaking to the French” [fr]. The meanings of the coded messages used during the resistance [fr] can be found on, including the famous “Wound my heart with a monotonous languor,” which announced the landing.

International issues in the French elections

Foreign media watch the the elections in France with great interest and respond to the 1977 Act. Jean-François Munster in Belgium does not understand [fr] why we still have this measure, he says:

Une loi complètement obsolète à l’heure d’internet et des réseaux sociaux et qui profite aux médias étrangers, dont Le Soir, qui diffusent les premières estimations sur leur site internet dès qu’elles sont disponibles – à partir de 18h45 – alors que les médias français doivent rester muets. (..) Les médias (français) respecteront la loi. Cela ne les empêche pas de dire tout le mal qu’ils en pensent. « Cette loi est ubuesque sur le fond, dénonce Thierry Thuillier. Aujourd’hui, une information produite est une information diffusée. Il faudra impérativement la dépoussiérer ».

A completely archaic law in today's internet and social network era, and benefits foreign media, including Le Soir, which broadcasts the first estimates on their website as soon as they become available – from 6:45pm – while the French media must remain silent. (..) The (French) media will obey the law. This does not prevent them from saying all the bad things that they associate with it. “This legislation is ludicrous on its merits, denounces Thierry Thuillier. Today, generated information is disseminated information. It will be essential to bring it up to date.”

However, it could be that foreign media are prosecuted for any distribution that violates French law. Boris Mahenti reports that [fr]:

La Commission de contrôle va plus loin et menace de poursuivre les médias belges et suisses qui diffuseront les résultats de la présidentielle dès 18 heures. “Si une information est diffusée sur le territoire français, alors le média tombe sous le coup de la loi française. Les médias belges et suisses sont susceptibles de poursuites.”

The Audit Board goes further and threatens to sue the Belgian and Swiss media that will disseminate the presidential elections results as early as 6pm. “If information is circulated in French territory, then the media is punishable under French law. Belgian and Swiss media are subject to prosecution.”

Presidential campaign in Antananarivo by the French Legislative from Abroad on Facebook

The African continent did not dwell on the controversy of the dissemination of poll results  prior to 8pm, rather, it focuses on the election results’ long term consequences for the continent. In Kenya, Global Voices translator [fr] Laila, is excited to be able to vote in Nairobi, Kenya:

 @hardcorekancil: Bureau de vote de Nairobi: A 10h30, plus de 100 électeurs avaient déjà voté. Le bureau est ouvert de 8h à 18h. #présidentielle2012

@hardcorekancil [fr]: Nairobi's polling station: At 10:30, more than 100 voters had already voted. The office is open from 8AM to 6pm. #présidentielle2012

In Madagascar, the candidates’ campaigns were going door to door. Legislative French from Abroad's Facebook profile says [fr]:

La démarche du porte à porte est inédite à Madagascar. Nous avons suivi une équipe en campagne vers Ivato puis à Tsaralalana. L’accueil est réceptif. Les franco-malgaches sont d’abord surpris puis ravis que l’on s’intéresse à eux et que l’on prenne le soin de venir chez eux pour leur parler et les inviter à une réunion de quartier..

The door to door approach is unheard of in Madagascar. We followed a campaign team to Ivato, then to Tsaralalana. The host is responsive. The Franco-Malagasy are surprised at first, then delighted that we are interested in them and that we take the time to come to their homes to talk to them and to invite them to a neighborhood meeting..

In Ivory Coast, Théodore Kouadio takes the pulse of Franco-Ivorian voters. He reports some voters’ voting intentions [fr]:

« Moi, j’ai l’habitude de voter socialiste, car ce sont eux qui sont sensible à la cause des minorités en France. Mais surtout à la situation des noirs. Mais je vais voter Sarkozy », explique Cissé Mamadou, un sexagénaire. Pour lui, c’est sa manière à lui de merci à Nicolas Sarkozy pour son implication dans la résolution dans la crise post-électorale en Côte d’Ivoire, qui a fait 3000 morts officiellement. Noel Koffi, installé dans la zone depuis 2 ans, mais de nationalité française est du même avis. Pour lui, ce serait une bonne chose que le Nicolas puisse rester au pouvoir pour accompagner les autorités ivoiriennes dans la reconstruction et dans le processus de réconciliation nationale.Dan Emmanuel, lui est alarmiste. Il pense qu’une défaite de Nicolas Sarkozy au soir du 7 Mai va être catastrophique pour le gouvernement ivoirien en place.

“I'm used to voting socialist because they are sensitive to the cause of the minorities in France. But especially to the situation of the black community. But I am going to vote for Sarkozy,” said Cissé Mamadou, a man in his sixties. For him, it is his way of saying thank you to Nicolas Sarkozy for his involvement in the resolution in the post-election violence in Ivory Coast, which resulted in an official death toll of 3,000. Noel Koffi, who has been living in the area for two years, but of French nationality, agrees. For him, it would be good if Nicolas could remain in power to accompany the Ivorian authorities in the reconstruction and process of national reconciliation. Dan Emmanuel is fearmongering. He thinks that a defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy on the evening of May 7th is going to be catastrophic for the Ivorian government in place.

Geostratégie publishes an interview with Charlotte Sawyer [fr] entitled “From France-Africa to France without Africa” and conversely she affirms:

L’Afrique a, surtout, appris une chose : qu’on ne pouvait plus faire confiance aux Français, devenus détrousseurs de grands chemins et grande compagnie. Enfin, à peu près tout ce qu’on voudra, sauf l’ami et le protecteur dont rêvaient encore certaines capitales africaines.(..) Demandez donc aux Maliens ce que vaut l’égide française ? Quant aux Ivoiriens, beaucoup se demandent ce que vous avez fichu dans leur capitale..

Africa has, above all, learned one thing: that we could no longer trust the French, who became highway robbers for large companies. Finally, they became almost anything you want, except the friend and protector that some African nations were hoping for (..) So ask Malians what's the use of being under the good grace of France ? As for the Ivorians, many wonder what were your mandate for intervention in their capital city..

Finally in Germany, Daniel Dagan gathers some funny German cartoons [de] on the French presidential elections.

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