French Twitter users to defy election embargo

Voters vow to use social media to circumvent decades-old law that prohibits declaration of results or estimates.

The code names that have been suggested online are "Camambert" for Sarkozy and "Flanby" for Hollande

Paris, France – Twitter users in France are expected to break an embargo on publishing partial voting results in Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, challenging a decades-old law and risking fines of up to $99,000.

Swiss and Belgian media have also vowed to break the law, which prohibits individuals, media and polling institutes from publishing voting results or estimates before the closure of all polling stations on mainland France at 8:00 pm on election day.

The microblogging site was abuzz on Saturday with users competing to determine which code names should be used to circumvent the ban.

In last month’s first round of voting, one of the nicknames used for frontrunner Francois Hollande was “Netherlands” while incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy was called “Hungary”, after the country his father hails from.

Suggestions floated online ahead of Sunday are “Camembert” for Sarkozy, an allusion to the cheese brand President, and “Flanby” for Holland – the brand name of a wobbly caramel pudding, which his critics say reflects his qualities as a candidate.

Twitter users marked their posts with the tag #RadioLondres or Radio London, a reference to the station created by the French resistance movement in London during the Second World War to send coded radio messages to German-occupied France.

Law not being defied

“We’ll be on #RadioLondres again the whole weekend,” @mikiane wrote on Friday.

Jurek Kuczkiewicz, deputy editor-in-chief of Belgian daily Le Soir, said the paper would handle the results in the second round in the same way as they handled those from the first round on April 22, and during the 2007 election.

“We will publish estimates – the same that French editorial teams and political parties will receive – that we deem reliable,” he told Al Jazeera.

He said publishing the figures is not about defying the law or questioning its relevance, but about disseminating information.

“We are journalists and our French-speaking Belgian readership is very interested in this election,” he said. “So we validate the information, put it in context and deliver it to them.”

Kuczkiewicz said the paper’s website traffic peaked at about 600,000 unique visitors in the first round, with about 75 per cent of them from France – while for a major Belgian event, the figure would be around 200,000.

“We are not indifferent to this French audience, but this is not our priority. The information already circulates massively on social networks, and it would not make sense to withhold it.”

Early estimates

Kuczkiewicz said the paper had not yet received any warning or sanctions, but had heard reports about an ongoing police investigation of Belgian and Swiss media.

French broadcasters are expecting to receive early estimates at around 6:00 pm on Sunday, and argue that this is important in order for them to prepare their output.

Defenders of the law argue that leaked partial results could influence the vote – for example if undecided voters come back from a weekend away and hear about the likely outcome of the vote, and then make a decision based on the leaks.

But critics say that amid the expanding reach of social media, the system should be reviewed. One solution suggested is that all voting stations should close at the same time, but this would not eliminate the risk of leaks from French overseas territories, where voting starts a day early because of time differences.

Authorities have pledged to take the issue seriously, saying elections could even be cancelled in case of irregularities.

Jacques-Henri Stahl, of the national commission for campaign control, told French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur that the authority had a dozen people working during the two election weekends.

Source: Al Jazeera