The Heckler’s Veto in France

Two days before the French presidential election, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal warned that there would be riots if her opponent, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected. She told a radio interviewer:

“Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice,” Royal told RTL radio.

“It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won),” she said.

Pressed on whether there would actually be violence, Royal said: “I think so, I think so,” referring specifically to France’s volatile suburbs hit by widespread rioting in 2005.

Then the Washington Post casually reported, in an article on Sarkozy’s plans, that “While he seeks the strong majority that will be crucial for pursuing the ambitious agenda he has promised, it is unlikely he will risk tackling any tough issues that could spark social unrest or street protests.”

“The question he will have to ask himself first is: What are the reforms he should implement to show politically that he sticks to what he announced?” said Dominique Reynié, a political analyst at the Institute for Political Sciences’ Political Research Center. “And the second question is: What are the reforms he can implement without creating riots?”

And indeed, according to Time, there have been riots since the election. But the rioters aren’t the disaffected immigrant youth of the suburbs. Instead, “the participants are mostly white, educated and relatively comfortable middle class adherents of extreme-left and anti-globalization ideologies.” Some 500 cars were burned each night, up from the routine 100 cars set afire in la belle France every night.

It was outrageous for Royal to suggest that the French people should choose their leader on the basis of fear and threats. We talk about a “heckler’s veto” in which the government prevents someone from speaking in order in order to avoid a violent reaction from his critics. How much worse it would be for a great nation to choose its president because of a “rioters’ veto.” How appalling for the leader of a French political party ostensibly committed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to encourage a rioters’ veto. Journalists should think twice about casually reporting that elected leaders will make their decisions out of fear of rioters.

And people on the left who are committed to democracy and peace should speak up against the use of such political violence by others on the left. Nobody warned that the French bourgeoisie would riot if Royal was elected. And they wouldn’t have, so no journalist would be reporting that President-elect Royal would have to avoid “tackling tough issues that could spark social unrest.”