The French election and the Mélenchon wild card

Melenchon supporters rally in Marseilles on 9 April
Contributed by Joe Montero

It seems that the political climate in France is changing. Following a common world trend, the two traditional establishment parties. As next month’s presidential election draws near, the Republicans and Socialists are in deep trouble.

This marks widespread disillusionment, which has created space for the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front and the broad alliance around Emmanuel Macron’s en Marche and formerly from the Socialist Party, who has positioned himself as the voice of reason at the centre.

In recent months, polls suggested that Macron and Le Pen would come out on top and will have to fight it out on the second round.

But the wild card has been the rise on Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his new party Unsubmissive France. Big media mostly describes him, as the far-left threat to the existing order. Attacks on him have been relentless. Despite this a groundswell of support is building, has overtaken the Socialist Party candidate and now has Macron and Le Pen in sight. Polls put the two at 24 percent. Macron is at 18 percent. Up 4.5 percent in two weeks.

The financial daily Les Echos headlined an article “Mélenchon: The new French ‘risk.’ The more openly conservative newspaper Le Figaro used “Mélenchon: The French Chavez’s delirious platform”.

While Le Pen pushed for protectionism and anti-immigration in a Trump like style, Macron goes for balancing the budget and version social democracy like Tony Blair’s new Labour in Britain. Both have drawn in support from the disillusioned bases of the two traditional parties.

Mélenchon contrasts the other two with clear policies such as getting out of NATO, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and blocking European trade treaties with the United States and Canada. He promises a referendum on whether to stick with a reformed European Union.

Mélenchon wants to reduce the 35-hour week to 32 hours and drop the retirement age to 60. He also wants to enforce a maximum wage. Unlike all the other candidates, Mélenchon is sympathetic to migrants. He carries a swag of economic and social policies that run counter the the prevailing neoliberalism.

At this point, Mélenchon’s strategy is to win over from Macron’s support base, by positioning himself as the only candidate that offers an alternative direction to the same old one.

To reposition himself as the genuine candidate of popular outrage, the 39-year old Macron told a rally:

“Outrage is here, outrage is among those in this hall tonight, who didn’t want to accept the rules of political life” and that “Outrage is among those who want to fight for the middle classes, against social and territorial injustice.”

Macron attacked Mélenchon for “pulpit outrage” and for big spending promises.

But Mélenchon is drawing big crowds at his rallies and changing the face of French politics. If he does manage top win the presidential election, it will have serious repercussions that that will not be confined to France’s borders. This is the second biggest economy in the European Union.

Whatever happens at this election, a powerful movement already exists.


Video from Aljazeera


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