French elections: from a teacher to a shepherd, underdogs struggle for the voter's ear

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French elections: from a teacher to a shepherd, underdogs struggle for the voter's ear
Posters of France's 11 candidates for president. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

One wants to ban Pokeman Go, another lays claim to knowing France the best of all 11 candidates for president after crisscrossing the country on foot for nine months.


But with the main candidates hogging the limelight in a rollercoaster race full of upsets and scandals, the underdogs are struggling for the voter's ear.

Thanks to France's strict electoral rules on equal time, the candidates who are scoring in the low single digits have been enjoying a somewhat higher profile in the final two weeks before voters cast their first ballots on April 23rd.

Trotskyist Nathalie Arthaud, who says she has no interest in actually becoming president, seizes every chance at the microphone to attack the "power of money" with gusto.

"If I came to power -- if my ideas came to power -- that would mean there's been a societal upheaval, it would mean millions of women and men have decided to fight and to take their destiny into their own hands," Arthaud, 47, said Thursday on TF1 television.

The standard-bearer of the Lutte Ouvriere (Workers' Struggle), who won 0.56 percent in the 2012 election, wants to ban layoffs, raise wages and give workers control over companies.

Arthaud, a schoolteacher, has a soulmate in Philippe Poutou, the only other candidate with a "normal" job -- in his case as a mechanic at a Ford factory where he is also a union leader.

In an April 4th debate among all 11 candidates, Poutou pleaded for the "millions who suffer in this society and are sick to death of this capitalist steamroller that destroys everything in its path".

The 50-year-old head of the New Anti-Capitalist Party also took on conservative candidate Francois Fillon and far-right contender Marine Le Pen, both dogged by scandal.

"When we're called in by the police, there's no worker's immunity!" he said in a dig at Le Pen, who may see her immunity lifted at the European Parliament over an expenses investigation.

Also running "against the political elite that has made a pact with the empire of money" is 75-year-old Jacques Cheminade, even though he attended the training ground for France's elite, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA).

Running for a third time after winning 0.25 percent of the vote in 2012, the retired civil servant who is the oldest candidate in the race has opted for a more down-to-earth approach after being written off as an oddball five years ago for proposing the colonisation of Mars.

One of his pledges this time around is to ban Pokemon Go, saying the virtual treasure hunt is an "expression of the mental state of our society that is both ridiculous and appalling".

Southwestern twang

Unlike most of his rivals, one-time shepherd Jean Lassalle is brimming with confidence that he will become France's next president in May, despite his 1.5 percent standing in the latest Ipsos poll.

Critics say "I am incapable of doing anything besides keeping sheep," Lassalle, an MP since 2002, told France Info radio in his thick southwestern twang.

But "I am the candidate who knows France the best in all its contours," said the 61-year-old who covered more than 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) during his cross-country trek in 2013.

He also staged a 39-day hunger strike in 2006 over a threat to jobs in his constituency nestled in a valley of the Pyrenees.

On the right side of the aisle are candidates Francois Asselineau and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who both take pains to set themselves apart from Le Pen and Fillon.

Asselineau, 59, is a former tax inspector who bills himself as the "national liberation" candidate, vowing to pull France out of the European Union and the euro, as well as Nato.

'Vote with their hearts'

An ENA graduate like Cheminade, Asselineau advocates leaving the EU immediately - unlike Le Pen who says she will put the proposal to a national referendum within the first six months of her presidency.

Calling for a withdrawal from Nato, he says France has become "a satellite of Washington, which drags us into illegal and neocolonial wars, especially in the Middle East."

As for 56-year-old Dupont-Aignan, head of Debout la France (France Stand Up), he favours a withdrawal from the eurozone, but said that unlike Le Pen,

"I want to change the rules without shattering everything."

On Friday, Dupont-Aignan, who won 1.79 percent of the vote in 2012 and is now polling at around 3.5 percent, railed against tactical voting in the two-stage election.

"I want the French to free themselves from the tyranny of the system and vote with their hearts," he said.


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