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ELECTION

Meet the angry Ford mechanic who shamed Le Pen and Fillon

France's latest celebrated underdog is Philippe Poutou, a Ford factory worker and head of an anti-capitalist party who became one of the stars of the second presidential debate after taking on Marine Le Pen and François Fillon.

Meet the angry Ford mechanic who shamed Le Pen and Fillon
Photo: AFP
The far-left candidate started on Tuesday night by refusing to take part in a group photo and became ruder as the night went on, emerging in the process as a voice of voter anger in a campaign dominated by scandals.
 
Poutou, a balding 50-year-old wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt who slouched over his lectern for parts of the three-hour televised exchange, signalled his intent with his opening remarks.
 
“Aside from (communist candidate) Natalie Arthaud, I think I'm the only person standing at these lecterns to have a normal profession, a normal job,” said the mechanic from southwest Bordeaux.
 
“We can speak in the name of millions who are suffering from the (financial) crisis, who suffer in this society and are sick to death of this capitalist steamroller destroying everything in its path,” he added.
 
The clash between the amateur and the “corrupt” professional political class was brutal at times, with Poutou expressing the sort of frustration regularly heard from voters on streets around France.
 
He harangued rightwing Republicans party candidate Francois Fillon who has been charged for misusing public funds after paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for an allegedly fake job in parliament.
 
A visibly angry Fillon, a 61-year-old former prime minister who accepted gifts of clothing worth thousands of euros earlier this year, threatened to “hit you with a lawsuit.”
 
Poutou, whose name means “little kiss”, also took on far-right leader Marine Le Pen after she invoked her parliamentary immunity to dodge a hearing with an investigating magistrate looking into allegations of expenses fraud.
 
“When we're called in by the police, there's no worker's immunity!” he said, drawing spontaneous applause from the audience.
 
Frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, a slick 39-year-old former investment banker schooled at France's best universities, “knows nothing about work,” he added.
 
 
'Dirty tricks'
 
His performance, peppered with coarse language, was an instant hit on social media, where he became one of the most commented figures of the evening which featured all 11 candidates for the first time.
 
Writing on the Mediapart website, commentator Christophe Gueugneau said that Poutou “had shown himself to be the natural representative of the working class, a voice for normal people to have a go at the professional politicians.”
 
He also brought up the corruption allegations that have overshadowed the two-stage election on April 23 and May 7 — and which were barely addressed in the first debate last month to the frustration of many.
 
“I received a lot of text messages and tweets encouraging me to express people's anger, particularly after all the dirty tricks from the politicians. I hope I didn't disappoint,” Poutou said afterwards.
 
Others were critical of a man who stands little chance of being elected  — he won 1.15 percent when he stood for the first time in 2012 — and his answers on policy issues such as Europe or the economy were sometimes confused
or incoherent.
 
His signature proposals include banning companies from firing workers, reducing the working week to 32 hours, and expropriating company profits and the banking sector.
 
“I don't think Philippe Poutou deserves any honours,” Anna Cabana, a political commentator on news channel BFM TV, said afterwards. “He acted very disrespectfully.”
 
His call for class struggle, backed by the fiery Trotskyist Arthaud, at times gave the debate a throwback feel of postwar France when the Communist party was a force in national politics.
 
Poutou also fits the mould of other working-class firebrands of the modern era — electorally unsuccessful but briefly celebrated in a country with a rebellious streak and a bloody history of turning against its ruling class.
 
Others have included Olivier Besancenot, a charismatic part-time postman who wanted to abolish the stock market, or anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove who became famous after trashing a McDonalds in 1999.
 
“Philippe Poutou will not be president of the republic, fortunately for the French people,” one of Fillon's closest allies, Bruno Retailleau, told CNews on Wednesday morning.
 
“Personally I don't share his vision of France, divided between classes,” he said.

ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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