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Left challenges in French presidential campaign

This article is over 11 years, 8 months old
It remains to be seen what impact events in Toulouse last week will have on France’s presidential election campaign.
Issue 2296

It remains to be seen what impact events in Toulouse last week will have on France’s presidential election campaign.

Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to counter the unpopularity of his presidency by making political capital out of the killings. He has proposed yet more measures to “get tough” on terrorism.

The election is run on a two round system. The top two of the ten candidates contesting the first round on 22 April will face each other in a second round on 6 May.

Polls have tended to show Sarkozy neck and neck with Socialist Party candidate François Hollande in the first round, with a bigger lead for Holland in the second.

Behind the frontrunners are three candidates on around 13 percent—Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the Left Front.

The Left Front is an alliance of former Socialists and the French Communist Party. Mélenchon, a former Socialist minister, has run a dynamic campaign.


Around 100,000 supporters joined a rally at the Bastille on 18 March. They sang the Internationale and the French national anthem. Mélenchon called for a “citizens’ insurrection” and a “popular revolution”.

Mélenchon’s success has raised hopes of developing a radical alternative to neoliberalism.

Until recently the New Anti‑Capitalist Party looked the most likely means of achieving this. But it has lost momentum and suffered splits and divisions.

The most recent of these was the declaration by some of its leading members that they would be voting for Mélenchon rather than their own candidate Philippe Poutou.

Poutou is currently polling below 1 percent, around the same level as another far left candidate, Lutte Ouvrière’s Nathalie Arthaud.

Some on the far left are wary of backing Mélenchon because of his inadequate response to Islamophobia, backing the “secularism” of the French state against minority rights.

They also fear he may be co-opted into a Socialist government, though Mélenchon has denied planning to do a deal with the Socialists.

These concerns aside, the Mélenchon phenomenon shows there is a deep-seated thirst for a fighting alternative to the feeble policies of the Socialist Party.

Whether Mélenchon can offer this alternative remains to be seen.

But the dynamism of his campaign is likely to have a profound effect on the development of the radical left beyond this election.


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