Official campaign begins for French Presidential election

The Local France
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Official campaign begins for French Presidential election
All photos: AFP

Monday marks the beginning of the first "official" campaign period, when candidates will pull out all the stops to win over voters before the first round of voting.


And just like that, there are only two weeks until the first round of voting (on April 23rd). 
As of Monday, you may have noticed that election campaign posters have been attached to the offical metal boards that have been erected in public spaces. 
So, here are a few key points to know about the campaign that starts on Monday. 
How much are candidates allowed to spend on their campaign?
There are limits to how extravagant candidates can make their campaigns during this first "official" period. 
To help even out the playing field a little between bigger and smaller parties, campaign expenses can't legally go over a certain threshold, €16.8 million for the first round, and €22.5 million for the second round.
Where do they get that kind of money from?
In the spirit of equalizing candidates' chances, and minimizing the influence of donors, candidates are reimbursed for certain campaign costs.
Those who manage to grab more than five percent of the vote in the first round are reimbursed 47.5 percent of their campaign spend, while those who don't make the five percent vote threshold see 4.75 percent of their money back.
But that doesn't mean French candidates are free to blow their budget on a cushy campaign limousine. The state only reimburses costs for certain parts of the campaign; the TV and radio campaign, printing costs, as well as putting up posters in official places.
What about private donors?
Yes, most of a candidate's campaign will usually be funded privately, though individuals are only allowed to donate a maximum of €4,600 each.
Any donation over €150 has to be given either via cheque, bank transfer or standing order to the candidate's official campaign account. So no slipping candidates a wad of cash with a nod and a wink, we hope.
Are there any rules on how to campaign?
French candidates are allowed to print posters, hold rallies and such, but they're not allowed to run the kind of TV ad campaigns you might see in the US and other countries.
Each candidate is allowed a small number of "statements" during the five-week official campaign period, which have to follow certain rules on editing and time.
What rules do the media have to follow?
The amount of time TV and radio stations dedicate to candidates and the amount of time they get to speak on air is fairly strictly controlled by France's audiovisual council.
In previous elections, a law of strict equality for the airtime given to each candidate was enforced, however as of April 2016, things have changed a little.
Now, in the period between the list of candidates being published and the official campaign beginning, candidates are given “equitable” airtime, meaning their on-air minutes are dictated by their score in the last election and poll ratings.
But as soon as the official campaign launches on Monday, the rules on completely equal airtime on TV and radio come into play, like before the reform.
That means candidates like Nathalie Arnaud, leader of the little-known Lutte Ouvrier (Worker's struggle) party, gets to speak for the same length of time as front runners like Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen during the official campaign period.
French media outlets will also be in big trouble if they reveal the winner before 8pm on results day, even though journalists usually know who it's going to be by 7pm.
What about opinion polls? 
The rules on polling have changed this year too. Any electoral poll now has to mention what proportion of people didn't answer, and provide information on how to get the raw results.
As always, it's forbidden to publish, broadcast or comment on any polls concerning voting intentions the day before or the day of the vote.


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