PARIS (AP) — A messy-haired Ford car factory worker in a baggy sweater stole the limelight during France's heated election debate Tuesday night.
The man, Philippe Poutou, was not a member of the audience. He's a candidate from the far-left New Anticapitalist Party, on stage with 10 other candidates just three weeks ahead of the first poll.
Poutou, 50, who took just five weeks leave from his factory job in Blanquefort for the presidential campaign, created sparks with his fighting rhetoric for the working classes and jabs at the front runners embroiled in corruption scandals.
He has virtually no chance of winning the presidency in the two-round election April 23 and May 7.
Nonetheless, with an unpolished freshness and childlike grin, he accused Republican candidate Francois Fillon, 63, and National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, 48, of sullying the moral character of politics. Both are embroiled in corruption cases.
Social media went wild on Wednesday with Poutou's stinging attacks — framing him as Joe Average speaking truth to power.
Le Pen said she was being "politically persecuted" and has parliamentary immunity as a member of the European Parliament.
Potou fired back: "There is no immunity for workers."
Fillon was 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 nobody will come intimidate me."
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."
Both Fillon and Le Pen deny any wrongdoing.