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Mélenchon, a Fiery Leftist, Has Late Surge in French Election

LE HAVRE, France — Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the main left-wing candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election, as soon as likened himself to one in every of nature’s slowest animals.

“Belief a sensible and electoral tortoise like me,” he said at a rally in January. “Gradual and regular wins the race.” And, he added, mockingly: “I’ve already drained a number of hares.”

Now, practically two weeks earlier than the primary spherical of voting on April 10, Mr. Mélenchon — a veteran politician who launched his third presidential bid 17 months in the past — is hoping that Aesop’s fable in regards to the tortoise who got here from behind proves prescient.

For months, Mr. Mélenchon and different candidates jostled within the polls beneath President Emmanuel Macron, the centrist incumbent, and Marine Le Pen, the far-right chief, hoping to disrupt their broadly anticipated rematch.

However Mr. Mélenchon, 70, the chief of the far-left France Unbowed motion, has surged recently in voter surveys. He’s now comfortably in third place with about 14 p.c, largely forward of his opponents on the left and inside a number of factors of Ms. Le Pen, whose fierce competitors with Éric Zemmour, an anti-immigrant pundit, has eaten into her assist.

A closing victory for Mr. Mélenchon nonetheless appears distant. However a left-wing candidate reaching the runoff for the primary time since 2012 could be gorgeous, particularly in a race that was long-dominated by right-wing speaking factors on safety, immigration and nationwide id.

“I’m beginning to suppose it may be attainable,” stated Jérôme Brossard, 68, a retiree who was attending a small Mélenchon rally on a latest night in Le Havre, a working-class port metropolis on France’s northern coast.

About 200 folks gathered at a group middle for the occasion, the place partitions have been lined with posters studying “One other World Is Doable.” Some waved France Unbowed flags or wore stickers of the candidate’s face on their chest.

Mr. Brossard stated family and friends had lately proven curiosity in Mr. Mélenchon, elevating his hopes and, for the primary time ever, prompting him to stick marketing campaign posters round city.

Mr. Mélenchon, a former Trotskyist and longtime member of the Socialist occasion who left in 2008 after accusing it of veering to the middle, is a perennial however divisive determine in France’s notoriously fractious left-wing politics.

A fiery, expert orator with a repute for irascibility — “I’m the Republic!” he once shouted at a police officer raiding his occasion’s headquarters in 2018 — Mr. Mélenchon has additionally staked out positions on contentious points like secularism, race and France’s colonial historical past which have put him at odds with these on the left who assist a stricter mannequin of a secular, colorblind republic.

However now, as the worldwide economic system strains to recuperate from the Covid-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine pushes up the costs of power and important items, Mr. Mélenchon’s unabashedly left-wing platform, together with a promise to impose worth controls on some primary requirements, is resonating.

“That’s his favored terrain,” stated Manuel Cervera-Marzal, a sociologist on the College of Liège who has written a book analyzing the France Unbowed motion.

“He’s doing an old-school, left-wing marketing campaign that places problems with inequality and buying energy at its coronary heart,” he stated, including that Mr. Mélenchon had softened his picture of a “barely bad-tempered” and “erratic” politician whereas preserving his “populist” technique of pitting the folks towards the elite.

Voters most interested in Mr. Mélenchon — who skew younger, unemployed and working-class — additionally make up their minds later than most, which helps clarify why Mr. Mélenchon’s polling numbers have risen because the end line approaches, in response to Mr. Cervera-Marzal.

However that can be the voters almost definitely to remain dwelling on election day, he warned.

“It’s a vital difficulty,” he stated. “The decrease abstention is, the upper Jean-Luc Mélenchon will go.”

Mr. Mélenchon nonetheless faces many obstacles. Different left-wing leaders have resisted rallying to his marketing campaign, castigating him for his pro-Russian feedback earlier than the invasion of Ukraine and saying his fiery nature made him unfit to control.

“We have to have a helpful president, not only a helpful vote,” François Hollande, France’s Socialist president from 2012 to 2017, advised France Inter radio this month, as he attacked Mr. Mélenchon’s anti-NATO stance and his willingness to decide out of European Union guidelines.

In 2017, Mr. Mélenchon missed the second spherical of voting by a mere share level, a bitter disappointment that his crew is keen to not repeat. Mr. Mélenchon’s marketing campaign has held a whole lot of small however packed rallies and despatched dozens of caravans to tour the nation to draw disillusioned voters.

“It’s time for the ultimate all-out offensive!” stated Adrien Quatennens, a France Unbowed lawmaker, on the rally in Le Havre. “It’s a vote that’s price a thousand strikes, a thousand protests!”

Turnout was low in Le Havre for final 12 months’s regional elections, however the metropolis, with its dock staff and highly effective commerce unions, continues to be fertile floor for Mr. Mélenchon’s marketing campaign. A 3rd of the town voted for him in 2017.

Sitting within the again row on the rally, Catherine Gaucher, 51, stated she “had a little bit of sympathy for the Greens originally.”

“However the platform they advance, no, it’s Macronism,” she stated, referring to Mr. Macron, who’s broadly depicted on the left because the “president of the wealthy.”

Against this, Mr. Mélenchon has vowed to decrease the authorized retirement age to 60 from 62; introduce a month-to-month minimal wage of 1,400 euros, or about $1,500; and improve taxes on the wealthy, together with by reintroducing a wealth tax that Mr. Macron repealed.

He’s additionally decided to interchange the nation’s Structure, which provides the president a robust higher hand, with a brand new parliamentary system. He has promised to massively spend money on inexperienced power and the struggle towards sexism and violence towards girls, and to overtake France’s police drive, in response to the #MeToo and anti-police-violence protests of latest years.

Even Mr. Mélenchon’s most vocal critics acknowledge his thoroughness. Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the pinnacle of a robust affiliation of France’s greatest corporations and one in every of Mr. Mélenchon’s greatest opponents, said last month that Mr. Mélenchon was “prepared to control,” with a “very effectively crafted” and “attention-grabbing” platform.

Clémence Guetté, who’s a part of the crew in control of that platform, stated that the Covid-19 pandemic — throughout which Mr. Macron pivoted from pro-market disrupter to unapologetic state spender to prop up France’s economic system — had helped legitimize Mr. Mélenchon’s personal beneficiant spending plans.

“The mind-set shouldn’t be the identical,” she stated.

However Mr. Mélenchon continues to be hard-pressed to draw left-wing voters who at present assist different candidates.

“A lot of them are questioning in regards to the effectivity of their vote,” Mr. Quatennens stated in an interview, including that voters needed to keep away from a rematch between Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron.

At an enormous demonstration final week in Paris, Mr. Mélenchon appealed on to left-wing sympathizers. “Every particular person is personally answerable for the result of the presidential election, as a result of every particular person has the important thing to the second spherical,” he stated in his speech. “Don’t cover behind the variations between leaders and labels.”

However the pool of left-wing voters to drag from is small.

One study by the Fondation Jean Jaurès, a progressive think-tank, discovered that about 40 p.c of these at present supporting the Socialist, Inexperienced or Communist candidates might ultimately vote for Mr. Mélenchon. However these candidates are polling so low that the extra assist might not push him into the runoff.

Nonetheless, Sarah Maury-Lascoux, 51, a literature instructor on the rally in Le Havre, was assured. The French left wants to beat its divisions, she stated, and rally behind “the one candidate who manages to take off.”

Fixed Méheutreported from Le Havre and Aurelien Breedenfrom Paris.

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