Jean-Luc Melenchon, with backing from the French Communist Party, is the candidate forging into the first round of the nation’s presidential election with critical momentum. In recent days, the veteran left-winger has surged in pre-election polls ahead of the official ballot taking place this Sunday.
Melenchon’s use of hi-tech hologram technology allowing him to hold multiple rallies across France simultaneously is no doubt helping his campaign reach out to voters – some 30 per cent of whom are said to remain undecided about which of the 11 candidates to back.
But it’s not all gimmickry. Melenchon is putting forward a forthrightly socialist manifesto to take the Elysée Palace. At age 65, he has more than four decades of political career behind him. And a proven track record of commitment to socialist policies. He therefore can’t be written off as an opportunist, or a flash in the pan. Melenchon combines intellectual rigor with street-wise feistiness. And voters appear to be rallying to his cause with gusto as a result. On recent media attacks against him from rivals, he quipped that voters «were being taken for fools…» by critics using fear-mongering. «They are warning I will bring a nuclear winter, a plague of frogs and an invasion of Russian Red Army tanks,» he said with cheeky derision – a feisty attitude that is gaining him support.
Why Melenchon’s surge in support is causing surprise to many observers is because it seems to contradict the notion that socialism has been widely repudiated by French voters. The incumbent President Francois Hollande and his ruling Socialist Party (PS) have been languishing in opinion polls to a chronic degree. Hollande is described as the most unpopular French leader ever in the history of the Fifth Republic. The current PS presidential candidate Benoit Hamon is trailing behind the top four contenders: Marine Le Pen, of the National Front, Emmanuel Macron, of the centrist En Marche, Francois Fillon, of the center-right Republicans, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, of the Unbowed France party.
But the unpopularity of the PS appears more to do with its ineffectualness and betrayal of socialist politics while in government over the past five years. As the buoyant support for Melenchon tends to affirm, a genuine socialist alternative is winning over French voters.
Moroccan-born Melenchon was previously a junior minister in the government of Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin (2000-2002). He was also a senator in the French parliament and is currently a Member of Parliament in the European Union. But he broke away from the PS in 2008 in disgust at its willingness to embrace neoliberal capitalism.
He is contemptuous of the PS under Hollande calling him the «captain of a pedal-boat». If elected to govern, Melenchon has set out a wide-ranging program, which includes: abandoning the pro-business, so-called labor «reforms» brought in under Hollande’s prime minister Manuel Valls; he is committed to reducing weekly working hours; cutting retirement age from 62 to 60, boosting the minimum wage; setting a maximum wage limit on CEOs, while massively increasing public spending, which will be paid for by higher taxation on the wealthy and corporations.
The firebrand socialist says he will take France out of the neoliberal dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as the European Union, if the latter does not reorient itself away from its bias towards serving global capitalism. He taps wide popular disdain over how the EU is subordinate to transatlantic big business and Washington-led geopolitics.
Melenchon also wants France to quit the US-led NATO military alliance and for the country to restore friendly relations with Russia.
His pro-Russian and anti-NATO views are reflected in Marine Le Pen’s. But unlike Le Pen, Melenchon is not averse to immigration. In recent rallies, Le Pen has taken a harsher anti-immigrant line, calling for draconian curbs on foreign entrants to the country and equating terrorists with immigrants. Her renewed embrace of far-right policies – denying that France collaborated with Nazi deportations during the Second World War for instance – has dented her campaign with old fears of «toxic fascist» influences.
Le Pen has also been marred by financial corruption scandal, as has the Republicans candidate Francois Fillon. Fillon’s advocacy of neoliberal economics, which have been likened to former British premier Margaret Thatcher, has shut him off from a broad swathe of French voters.
The «centrist star», Emmanuel Macron, has run a campaign that seems overly manufactured by «big business» to appeal to voters. But his otherwise «youthful» image is shadowed with history of being a former investment banker and having previously served in Hollande’s government as an economy minister, leaving Macron vulnerable to voter-suspicions of being «damaged goods».
Only days to go to the first round of the presidential election, some one-third of France’s 47 million voters are said to be still undecided.
The Financial Times this week notes that: «Disillusioned voters in poor suburbs could swing France’s election». Given that this demographic is largely made up of low-income immigrant populations, it would seem that Melenchon stands to poll strongly in these areas – if they in fact get out to vote.
For a long time, it seemed that Le Pen, with her Donald Trump-like nationalism, was destined to be the «big upset» in the French election. She also rode on the «Brexit wave» for a while. But that movement has since waned.
However, it seems now that Jean-Luc Melenchon is emerging as the dark horse in this tightly-run race.
A strong performance this weekend will put him through to the second round of the presidential contest to be held on May 7. The momentum that Melenchon’s campaign in harnessing could see him go all the way to become the next president of the French Republic.
His growing popularity among French voters is proof that a genuine socialist alternative is a viable option in today’s world – not just for France, but for the rest of Europe and beyond.
And with a such a president leading Europe’s second most powerful nation, the implications for NATO’s agenda of hostility towards Moscow and the EU’s servile anti-Russian stance are huge, and largely positive.
Photo: Le Figaro