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France's quirky candidates vie for votes in legislative elections

Sylvain Thomas, AFP | LREM candidate for legislative elections in the Gard’s 2nd constituency and former rejoneadora Marie Sara (C) speaks with Spanish matador El Juli (2L) on June 3, 2017 during the Nîmes Pentecost Feria in Nîmes, southern France.

Between political neophyte Emmanuel Macron's unlikely presidential win and legislative votes this month likely to bring sweeping change to France's political landscape, renewal has been the watchword during this spring election season.

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Never elected to anything before he won his country’s highest office in May, Macron has made a show of pledging political renewal from the ground up. A large swath of the legislative candidates that his fledgling La République en Marche (LREM) has invested for June 11 and 18 elections are newcomers drawn from civil society.

But Macron’s camp isn’t the only source of atypical profiles vying for seats in the National Assembly this year. Across the spectrum, quirky aspiring lawmakers abound. From a former fighter, former bullfighter and former kickboxing champ – all three are women, by the way – to a maths whiz, a stripper and a man who imitates politicians for a living, the class of 2017 hopefuls is certainly eclectic. FRANCE 24 looks at a selection of the most unusual candidates.

Marie Sara, Bullfighter

Sara, a 52-year-old horseback bullfighting star, is running for Macron’s LREM in the Gard, southern France. The district includes Nîmes, a top French bullfighting hub. Although retired from bullfighting, Sara raises bulls for corrida battles. In this campaign, she is hoping to take down Gilbert Collard, the only incumbent lawmaker running for the National Front in this election. “I am used to entering the arena; he’s a good adversary. I’m running to prevent him being re-elected,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Dieudonné, Convicted comedian; Nolan Lapie, Convicted smacker

Nolan Lapie’s claim to fame is that he once smacked a former prime minister. The 18-year-old from Brittany was convicted and handed a three-month suspended sentence and 105 hours of community service for smacking ex-PM Manuel Valls on a campaign stop during the latter’s ultimately unsuccessful run for the Socialist nomination in January.

Lapie has parlayed that dubious notoriety into a deputy spot on a ticket bidding for Valls’s own legislative seat with the even more notorious Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, a polemical comedian who has been slapped with convictions himself -- notably for “inciting racial hatred” -- and who has a history of verbal sparring with Valls. The motley pair are running in the Essonne against the incumbent ex-PM, whose political fortunes have waned in recent months.

Cédric Villani, Maths genius

The instantly recognisable Villani, 43, with his long hair, flamboyant floppy bowties, and giant spider brooch, won the Fields Medal, mathematics’ highest honour, in 2010. Now he is looking to put up good numbers at the ballot box in another district of the Essonne, outside Paris, as a candidate for Macron’s LREM.

“I already changed my life several times. I was a researcher, a managing director, I was a public personality,” Villani told the Associated Press. “It’s important to make a change from time to time, and in most cases, your previous lives will help you in your future life. One gets richer with various experiences.”

Cindy Lee, Stripper

Cindy Lee, also known as Isabelle Laeng, a former stripper who founded the hedonist Pleasure Party in 2001, is running in the seventh district of Paris in her third bid for a National Assembly seat. Her best score, in 2007, was 1.06 percent.

Cindy Lee named her party in 2001, when mounting a bid for Paris municipal elections, but suggested recently that she regrets the choice. “I realise today that the word ‘pleasure’ scares people off. The sexual connotation is too strong,” she told French weekly Le Point. “Perhaps I should have used ‘well-being’. Because everybody is searching for pleasure and well-being through employment, security, ecology, purchasing power…”

François Ruffin, Filmmaker journalist

A journalist who grew up in Macron’s native Amiens, the 41-year-old Ruffin founded the leftist newspaper Fakir in 1999 and has fashioned himself the image of a blue-collar hero, a sort of French Michael Moore, with the success of his hit feature-length documentary 2015 “Merci patron!” (Thanks, Boss!). The film, in which Ruffin leads a laid-off working-class couple into a David-and-Goliath battle with France’s wealthiest man (Bernard Arnault, head of luxury giant LVMH), won a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Documentary.

Running for a seat in the Somme, northern France, Ruffin enjoys the backing of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, the Greens and the French Communist Party. The usually T-shirt-clad candidate has no love for Macron, to whom he penned an op-ed in Le Monde three days before the young president’s election, entitled “Open letter to a future president who is already hated.” Ruffin’s National Assembly campaign posters proclaim, “A banker at the Élysée? The people at the Assemblée!”

Sarah Soilihi, Kickboxing champ

A 24-year-old law student and teaching assistant, Soilihi was world kickboxing champion in 2015. Now she is fighting for a lawmaker’s seat in her native Marseille under far-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise banner. Soilihi once served as spokeswoman for Socialist politician Christophe Castaner -- who has since himself become the government’s official spokesman under Macron. But she later switched camps to join the far-leftist (and ex-Socialist) Mélenchon. Of Comoros and Moroccan descent, Soilihi faces, among others, Stéphane Ravier, a senator and mayor for the anti-immigration populist National Front.

“I am often introduced as a fighter for La France Insoumise, but I chose to go into the ring, to take punches. For me, the real fighters are you, the people battling every day,” Soilihi told a crowd on the campaign trail.

Marion Buchet, Fighter Pilot

Buchet, 35, was a fighter pilot for 15 years before going back to university last year to study law at the Sorbonne. She is running for Macron’s LREM in Meurthe-et-Moselle, eastern France.

Gérald Dahan, Impersonator

Dahan, a 43-year-old comedian, radio personality and actor, is probably best known in France for telephone pranks in which he has successfully imitated one politician to punk another; his victims have included Nicolas Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal and Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was prime minister at the time.

Dahan supported Socialist François Hollande for the presidency in 2012, but he has joined Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s camp this time, running for a seat in the Hauts-de-Seine, suburban Paris.

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