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French Race Draws Dog, Stripper

PARIS -- A striptease artist, a pro-cannabis postman and a tiny dog called Sausage are vying for the Elysee Palace this year and livening up what for many French voters has been a dull presidential campaign.

Some 50 candidates, ranging from the wacky to the deadly earnest, hope to make their mark in the first round of voting to pick France's president on April 21.

Barring a surprise of seismic proportions, none of the outsiders will make it to the two-candidate runoff on May 5. But analysts say the fact that more have come forward than at any other French election reflects a deep-seated disillusionment among French voters.

"Voters are unhappy with the main candidates," said Jean-Luc Parodi, head of research at the Center of Studies of French Political Life in Paris.

Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin hopes to oust his rival, conservative incumbent President Jacques Chirac, in the May 5 runoff vote. But Parodi said both had managed to turn off voters during their awkward five-year power-sharing arrangement.

"Since both main candidates are in power, those fed up with the system are looking elsewhere," he said.

Some will look no further than striptease artist Cindy Lee and her Party of Pleasure's ticket of "a sexier France."

"I don't know why I should be considered any less credible than the other candidates just because I take my clothes off," the curvy blond told the daily newspaper France Soir.

Lee, 29, hopes to massage the mood of the nation with a free emergency "love doctor" service to comfort the lonely, seduction lessons for schoolchildren and "the right to pleasure for all."

She is unlikely even to secure the 500 signatures of elected politicians needed to qualify for the first round. Skeptics say she is only in it to boost her career.

A tiny dog named "Saucisse," French for sausage, might also fall at the first hurdle, having survived an earlier career as bait in pitbull fights.

Saucisse, who grabbed 4 percent of the vote at municipal elections in Marseille last year, proves voters are sick of a political system dogged by bickering, owner Serge Scotto said.

"Sausage is sending a warning to politicians that unless they do better we would rather vote for a dog," he said.

Parodi was more skeptical.

"None of these prankster candidates will get anywhere near the final round. They just enjoy a certain amount of kudos before sliding back into political anonymity," he said.

With Chirac and Jospin running similar campaigns based around cutting taxes and fighting crime, smaller candidates at both ends of the political spectrum are left rich pickings.

Olivier Besancenot, a 27-year-old postman who delivers letters to the residents of one of Paris's poshest suburbs, advocates a four-day working week and legalization of cannabis.

He is one of three Trotskyites running for election, including one -- the revolutionary left-winger Arlette Laguiller -- who is scoring up to 10 percent in opinion polls.

On the far-right, veteran populist Jean-Marie Le Pen is one of two anti-immigration candidates, while no fewer than four ecologists will be sparring for the green vote.

All of these feel they have serious points to make, and some have large parties behind them. But even wacky outsiders like Lee and Saucisse reckon they have everything to play for.

"People have had enough of Chirac and Jospin," Saucisse's master Scotto said. "They are turning instead to the bizarre and the ridiculous."

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