Mélenchon’s far-left voters become France’s reluctant kingmakers – POLITICO

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PARIS – Jean-Luc Mélenchon was on the verge of retiring Marine Le Pen.

For a few hours on Sunday evening, the far-left leader of France was unbowed just 0.8 percentage points from overtaking its far-right rival and taking on French President Emmanuel Macron in the second round.

Then the dust settled, the votes were counted, and Mélenchon soon realized he had to settle for a consolation prize: kingmaker.

There’s only one problem. It is not clear that Mélenchon or his supporters really want to appoint a king.

While Mélenchon is himself a staunch Le Pen opponent, there has long been an overlap between his constituents and the far-right leader’s supporters, of which the veteran politician is well aware. Both he and Le Pen have championed the cost of living, reaching out to voters who feel marginalized by globalization and who increasingly reject Macron’s pro-business agenda.

As Mélenchon conceded defeat late Sunday, he – unlike several other losing mainstream party candidates – deliberately avoided telling his supporters on April 24 to back Macron. He went furthest by simply begging them not to “give a single vote” to Le Pen.

That could mean voting for Macron. It could also mean doing nothing.

According to Ifop survey On Sunday, 44 percent of Mélenchon supporters are allowed to abstain in the second round — the highest number in the poll of all candidates who fell short on Sunday. Among the others, a third would stand for Macron, while almost a quarter would run for Le Pen. The survey matches a youngest Ipsos poll showing half of Mélenchon’s voters had no preference between Le Pen and Macron, and the rest broke 31-18 percent in Macron’s favour.

While the far-left candidate wants to block the far-right and is closer to Macron on some key issues such as renewable energy development, his anti-EU, anti-NATO and isolationist stances also share some issues with Le Pen’s message.

Mélenchon’s advisers say it’s now up to Macron to woo the France Unbowed crowd.

The French president “today bears the responsibility for the success of the far right,” said Adrien Quatennens, a French MP and Mélenchon’s campaign coordinator. Now, he added, Macron must “do what is necessary” to win over Mélenchon supporters.

Macron already hinted Monday that he was ready to strengthen his platform on environmental issues in a bid to seduce overtly green-minded voters, including Mélenchon.

In his third presidential bid, Mélenchon surprised many Sundays with his stronger-than-expected third-place finish, garnering 21.9 percent of the vote, trailing only Le Pen with 23.4 percent and Macron with 27.6 percent.

The former socialist rose late in a campaign he technically launched in 2020, who preaches his Eurosceptic vision as an alternative to the Socialist Party, which has long dominated French politics. He vowed to draft a new constitution, freeze oil prices and legalize euthanasia. Mélenchon also sidestepped pro-Russian positions from his past, mostly disguised in hostility towards the US

Mélenchon’s success contrasts with the trend in other parts of Europe, particularly Germany, where left-leaning voters are more drawn to socialist and green parties.

“There is now a radical, populist right with Le Pen, a liberal pool with Macron, and the left focused on Mélenchon and his France Unbowed,” said Matthieu Gallard, research director at French polling firm Ipsos. “Does that mean left-wing voters voted for Mélenchon? I’m not sure. It was a tactical vote and a vote on social and economic issues.”

In a speech after the final results were announced, Mélenchon spoke of “the intensity of the disappointment” at his defeat. “But at the same time, how can you hide from pride in the work done?” he asked. “There’s a hub for people now… If we weren’t there, what would be left?”

Not only did Mélenchon wipe out the conservative Les Républicains, who finished third in France’s last presidential election, he also overtook Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor and socialist candidate, who got just 1.74 percent. He also beat Yannick Jadot, the Green Party candidate, who failed to get 5 percent.

These three defeated candidates immediately encouraged their supporters to appeal to Macron and prevent Le Pen from reaching higher office. On the right, former television pundit and anti-immigrant polemicist Eric Zemmour urged his 7 percent of voters to support Le Pen in the second round.

Then there was Mélenchon, who refused to explicitly endorse Macron.

“The fight goes on,” he vowed.

Observers said Mélenchon shook people up with his election campaign titled Another World is Possible.

His ideas for improving the cost of living and modernizing society resonated with many of France’s disaffected, particularly his proposals to raise wages and curb inflation through energy price caps, and calls to legalize marijuana and end prostitution. He also proposed adding a “green rule” to the constitution that would force people “not to gather from nature more than it can grow back”.

And voters apparently didn’t see Mélenchon’s anti-EU and anti-NATO stance as a no-go. The candidate said he wanted France to reject some EU rules and withdraw from NATO’s integrated military command. On the war in Ukraine, Mélenchon said he was opposed to sending arms to Ukraine and once described the “ports of Crimea,” a region Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as “vital to Russia’s security.”

The results showed that the leader of France Unbowed was gaining ground in France’s overseas territories and major cities. He won absolute majorities on the French islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyana, where many residents protested regulations the imposition of a COVID vaccination certificate for certain activities. Corresponding Le Parisien, he received 31 percent of the votes in French cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Mélenchon also benefited from last-minute endorsements in the final weeks of his campaign, including from Christiane Taubira, a former justice minister who won an unofficial primary for the French left before later retiring.

However, Gallard noted that Mélenchon’s rise since the 2017 election did not prevent France Unbowed from losing ground elsewhere in France as it competed against other left-wing forces. It is also unclear whether the 70-year-old Mélenchon will run again in 2027 and whether the party can survive a change in leadership.

Sunday’s results also highlighted fractures within the French left, which has been unable to unite under one banner. Alongside the weak performances of the Greens and Socialists, communist candidate Fabien Roussel received just 2.3 percent of the vote, and two other far-left candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, each ended up under 1 percent.

“Mélenchon has championed the cost of living and that’s what motivates people most of all,” Gallard said. “Among the forces on the left, its radical center is structured and stronger, while the others are divided.”

Louise Guillot and Victor Jack contributed reporting. Mélenchon's far-left voters become France's reluctant kingmakers - POLITICO

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