Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Jean-Luc Melenchon: ‘Rebel Leftist’ Seeking French Presidency | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55371659

French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. (AFP)

Paris – If there is a need to demonstrate that Jean-Luc Melenchon, the French presidential candidate who has been described as the “rebellious France”, has started to affect his three rival candidates, one need only observe how all three of them have simultaneously launched an attack against him in wake of his rise in opinion polls.

Melenchon is running in the elections against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and the traditional right’s Francois Fillon.

Most French recall that Melenchon emerged from the French Communist Party before abandoning it for the far-left. He has a clear presidential program and is an eloquent orator and therefore his rivals believe that the momentum that he has needs to be stopped. His rise has seen him reach third place in opinion polls, just after Le Pen and Macron and above Fillon.

His rivals believe that his program should be marginalized and voter should be persuaded that his election will mean the return of communism and Soviet tanks to Paris, the restructuring of companies and a flood of immigrants and refugees into France. These are a few of other “surreal excuses” that serve one goal: intimidating the people and forcing them to disregard this unconventional candidate.

Obscure Candidate

Less than a month ago, none of the three presidential hopefuls had regarded Melenchon as a contender. In fact, French Communist Party candidate Benoit Hamon had at one point gone so far as to call on Melenchon to withdraw from the race and support him instead in order to unite the leftist ranks. At the time, opinion polls indicated that Melenchon enjoyed 10 to 12 percent backing, while Hamon edged him out by a small margin.

Today however the situation has radically changed as Melenchon’s popularity now exceeds 20 percent as opposed to Hamon’s single digits. It is clear that the former has garnered the favor of the divided French Communist Party. The party’s liberal wing, which includes Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has gone on to back Macron, while the leftist wing has backed Melenchon because he has better chances of reaching the second round of the presidential elections. The first round is scheduled for April 23, while the final round, in which the top two candidates compete, is set for May 7.

The truth of the matter is that Melenchon is edging closer to the top two candidates, Le Pen and Macron, who are losing ground in opinion polls. They are both hovering at around 22 to 23 percent, while Melenchon is going from strength to strength. The second round of the elections could see him running against Le Pen.

Nightmare Scenario

This is a nightmare scenario for several of the French as no one had seen Melenchon coming. His image has improved and he is seen as the candidate who is closest to the people and one with the cleanest record. Everyone agrees on his public speaking skills, but he has now become a threat to the right, left and center alike. If Macron’s numbers in opinion polls continue to decrease and Fillon remains mired in his family scandals, then the road will be clear for Melenchon. He will lead France towards the unknown, along with the country’s fate in the European Union.

The alarm bells have started to ring in France and outgoing President Francois Hollande, who has led the Socialist Party to its breaking point, told Le Monde newspaper in an indirect reference to Melenchon earlier this week that “we are seeing the orator, but forgetting the content and the program.” Hollande announced that the politics in France needs “renewal”, which can be seen as a reference to Macron, who is only 39 years old. The centrist candidate had served as assistant to the Elysee Palace general secretary before being appointed economy minister by Hollande.

Meanwhile, the pro-Fillon Le Figaro newspaper dedicated on Wednesday four pages to attack Melenchon, while its greatest fear is that the leftist pass him in opinion polls and make it to the second round of the elections. It said: “The problem lies in that he has prepared an electoral program that is inspired from South American revolutionists, specifically late Venezuelan ‘comrade’ Hugo Chavez. It is no secret that the ‘rebellious France’ candidate holds an unabashed admiration for him.”

It went on to note that Melenchon’s electoral program calls for increasing public spending to 270 billion euros, imposing a 100 percent income tax on all whose salaries exceed 400,000 euros annually, increasing paid work leave to six weeks and lowering the number of working hours per week. This will all harm the national economy and the financial markets have started to voice their concerns over the program, said Le Figaro.

Radical Economic Program

The right has said that Melenchon’s economic-social program is impossible to implement, while Fillon has descried it as a program for communist rule, which will sink the French economy like the Titanic. This is a fear that has been shared by business owners, who also warned of the consequent rise in unemployment and of France’s exit from the EU and abandonment of the euro.

An ardent defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies, including his stance on Syria, Melenchon has been touting himself as the “candidate of peace,” to which Macron responded that he rejects “Putin’s peace.” Melenchon was quick to respond to his critics, saying during an electoral rally on Wednesday: “If you elect any one of those three (Le Pen, Macron and Fillon), then you will bleed.” Furthermore, he indicated that during Fillon’s tenure as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, unemployment rose to exceed one million and public debt reached 600 billion euros. As for Macron, Melenchon indicated that during his time as economy minister, unemployment reached record numbers. He also berated him for “betraying” Hollande, who “made him,” saying that he abandoned the socialists to head to the Rothschild Bank.

First Round

In a few days, 47 million French voters will head to the first round of the presidential elections. Analysts agree that these elections will differ from all other previous ones since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. On the one hand, it is clear that the two main political parties that have taken turns in ruling the country over the past 60 years will likely not make it to the second round. On the other hand, this is the first time that the far-right, through Le Pen, has gotten this close to the Elysee Palace. The French are also dealing with the Macron phenomenon, who emerged as an independent candidate and who does not have a political party platform to fall back on. He established the “En Marche!” (“Forward!”) political movement last summer and is seeking to defeat the left and right. The problem should he be elected president lies in that he does not enjoy a parliamentary majority that will back his legislative efforts and ensure political stability. Le Pen and Melenchon face the same problem, which is why Fillon is trying to market himself as the only candidate who can guarantee such stability and lead the country.