The minor candidate who caught the public’s eye this week was Philippe Poutou. During Tuesday’s debate featuring all 11 candidates, Poutou openly criticised the investigations into the mainstream right Les Republicains candidate, Francois Fillon, and far right Front National leader, in a way that the other candidates have not done.
With Fillon, “there are only scandals, and the more you dig, the more you feel the corruption, the cheating,” he said on Tuesday, referring to investigations into Fillon’s use of parliamentary funds to employ his wife.
As for Le Pen, Poutou said she was “also stealing from the public coffers”, referring to investigations into her financing her party with money from the European Parliament meant to pay her assistants there. “It’s not here, it’s Europe,” said Poutou. “For someone who is anti-European, it doesn’t seem to bother her to steal Europe’s money.”
Poutou is a union activist who worked in a Ford factory in Bordeaux. He’s the head of the NPA, the New Anti-capitalist Party, and ran for president in 2012, winning just 1.15 per cent of the vote.
His presidential platform is focused on work conditions, including a 32 hour work-week and a rise in the minimum wage, from 1,000 to 1,700 euros.
Another far-left candidate is Nathalie Arthaud, a teacher in a Paris suburb, who is running for the Trotskyist Lute Ouvriere, or Worker’s struggle party.
While hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon is running a campaign with similar ideals, Arthaud and Poutou say they represent normal people with normal jobs.
In their debate performances, they both focused on their issues, to keep them in the public conversation.
A major issue for the other minor candidates is Europe. Of the six, three are Euroscpetic, and they differ from Le Pen and Melenchon, who have both said they want to renegotiate European treaties, and if they do not get what they want, they will pull France out of the Union.
Francois Asselineau goes even further. A former tax inspector, he is running his first presidential election campaign in which he is calling for an immediate “Frexit”, or withdrawal from the European Union, as soon as he’s elected.
He says the other candidates are deluded into thinking the rules would allow any negotiation.
“My fellow citizens, the reality is that all the European treaties lock us into an economic and social policy that is intolerable for French people,” he said in Tuesday’s debate.
Asselineau, who says he is beyond the left/right political divide, says he will unilaterally pull France out of the EU, the Eurozone and Nato.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, an MP since 1997, takes a less extreme position. He has talked about a group of European states, with no European parliament, no European institutions, but with a European council. His Europe would manage a common market, and not much else.
Dupont-Aignan was originally a centrist, but has drifted right over the years. He left the mainstream right UMP and founded his own party in 2008, called Debout la France, France rises up.
He takes a hard line on security, and wants to raise the minimum wage by 10 per cent.
Finally, there is Jacques Cheminade, who wants France to leave the European Union but continue to work with a select number of countries on common projects.
At 74-years-old, he is the oldest candidate, and is on his third presidential campaign. He made a name for himself by campaigning to colonise the moon and Mars.
It is difficult to pin Cheminade down on the political spectrum: you might call him a leftist Gaullist. He is the French representative of the LaRouche movement, founded by the American politician Lyndon LaRouche, who is known for his conspiracy theories.
A shepherd in the Elysee palace
The final of the six minor candidates is Jean Lassalle, who comes from a family of shepherds in the Pyrenees in southwestern France. He started politics young: in 1977, when he was 22, he was elected mayor of Lourdios-Ichère, the village where he was born. And he is still mayor. He was elected to parliament in 2002.
Lassalle is an independent, but politically a centrist. He is known for having gone on a 39 day hunger strike in 2006 to protest against a factory leaving his area (it did not end up leaving).
He speaks with a strong regional accent, and says he represents rural people.
For him, none of the other candidates are presidential.
“I’m told that Macron and Fillon did well [in the debate],” he told RFI. “But I did not see in them a president in whom I’ll put my confidence in a few weeks.”
Neither Lassalle nor the other five candidates are likely to attract enough votes to swing the election decisively. But we will be hearing more from them ahead of May 7, since French election rules mean that all candidates have to be given equal media time.