French election: factory worker Philippe Poutou emerges as anti-capitalist star of TV debate

With an unpolished freshness and childlike grin, Mr Poutou hit out at his other, higher-profile rivals

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The Independent Online

A Ford car factory worker in a baggy jumper stole the limelight during France’s heated election debate – and woke up to a new level of fame.

Philippe Poutou is a candidate from the far-left New Anticapitalist Party, who was on stage with 10 other candidates just three weeks ahead of the first poll. He did his best to outshine frontrunners Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, far right leader Marine Le Pen, and mainstream conservative François Fillon.

Mr Poutou, 50, who took just five weeks leave from his job at Ford’s Blanquefort plant in the country’s south-west to run for president, created sparks with his fighting rhetoric for the working classes and jabs at the front-runners embroiled in corruption scandals.

With support of 0.5 per cent in an IFOP poll, he has virtually no chance of winning the presidency in the two-round election on 23 April and 7 May.

Nonetheless, with an unpolished freshness and childlike grin, he accused Republican candidate Mr Fillon, 63, and National Front candidate Ms Le Pen, 48, of sullying the moral character of politics. Both are embroiled in corruption cases – and both deny any wrongdoing.

Social media went wild on Wednesday with Mr Poutou’s stinging attacks – framing him as an average man speaking truth to power.

Ms Le Pen, who claimed to be “persecuted politically”, said she is protected by parliamentary immunity as a member of the European Parliament.

“There is no immunity for workers,” Mr Poutou fired back.

Mr Fillon has been given preliminary charges for allegedly giving his wife and two children government-funded jobs which they never did. “I didn’t make any mistakes... I’m still here and no one will intimidate me.”

Mr Poutou retorted: “Since January, it’s just been a great campaign... the more we dig, the more corruption there is, the more cheating there is.”

The unionist, who frostily refused to pose in the collective photo of candidates ahead of the debate, has been basking in the unexpected glory in the hours since.

“I believe there is a real disconnection between the political world and the population,” Mr Poutou said at a political rally in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil.

Associated Press