‘Little’ candidates take their chance to shine

Audience watching debate of people in a semi-circle
The 11 presidential candidates debate their policies on live TV

Marathon televised presidential debate is watched by six million

After nearly four hours of TV debate – at times very vigorous – the 11 candidates for this month’s first round of the presidential election had their say with the six ‘minority’ candidates getting a moment to shine.

Nathalie Arthaud (LO), François Asselineau (UPR), Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (DLF), François Fillon, Benoît Hamon, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Philippe Poutou (NPA) filled the screens as they faced each other for the first time in a set-piece televised debate.

Two to make their mark were Philippe Poutou of the anti-capitalist alliance NPA and Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière, who were vocal in calling out the legal travails of François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

Watched by six million viewers, Mr Poutou lashed Mr Fillon, saying “the more we dig the more we smell corruption” and attacked Ms Le Pen for “stealing from public funds”.

And, in a scathing reference to Ms Le Pen’s use of parliamentary privilege to avoid being questioned by police, Mr Poutou said: “Us, when we are called in by the police, we don’t have worker’s immunity.”

Likewise, Ms Arthaud told Mr Fillon: “When you are elected you have a greater duty than others. When you are a worker you are accountable every day. When you are on social benefit, there too, there are controllers watching you. And in a company, a check-out operator who picks up a wasted money-off voucher is fired. You admitted mistakes, but for less, people are being sacked."

Mr Fillon was generally quiet but struck home with a barb at Ms Le Pen, telling her that her EU exit plan would collapse the minute the French people were asked about keeping the euro.

For Mr Asselineau it was a chance to push his plans to pull France out from under Europe, with a Frexit, and he drew nods from other minority candidates and Ms Le Pen for opposing the EU although Ms Le Pen said she was against his planned “brutal” or hard Frexit.

Others agreed with Mr Cheminade, who said it was more a question of facing up to the “dictatorship of big finance”.

Mr Dupont-Aignan challenged Mr Macron over increased taxes while Mr Lassalle called for “more hope” in the campaign. Google revealed later that Mr Lassalle was the most-searched-for politician in its searches, ahead of Mr Cheminade and Mr Poutou.

A poll after the debate for hosts BFMTV gave Mr Mélenchon the leader ahead of Mr Macron.

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