Emmanuel who? The extreme right is fighting hard against the left for the French vote

PARIS – The stakes are high, the battle is hard and centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s party is the one to beat. But to a visitor from space, June’s general election in France might look like a contest between the far right and the hard left.

A month before the first ballot, the campaign for the 577 seats in France’s lower house was brutal. Pressure has mounted since April’s presidential election, when Macron won a second mandate, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff to quash her third bid for the job.

The pot overflowed when Le Pen’s political nemesis, hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, forged alliances with a number of left-wing parties in June, positioning himself to outperform both them and, he hopes, Macron.

Therefore, Le Pen sees Melenchon as her main opponent for now as she tries to keep her national rally party politically relevant with a good showing in Parliament.

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Her party’s campaign slogan “The only opposition to Macron” testifies to her rivalry with the far-left leader.

Melenchon himself, bolstered by his alliances, has set his sights higher, declaring he will steal Macron’s majority to become France’s next prime minister – an appointment made solely by the president.

Le Pen’s hopes are less grandiose: to create a “powerful” parliamentary group — at least 15 MPs — that would give her anti-immigrant party more speaking time and other privileges to be heard, and bully those in power.

Le Pen ridicules Melenchon as the “court jester” who will never become prime minister. But with enough votes, she told RTL radio this week, Melenchon could transform the National Assembly into a squatter’s haven for left-wing causes, “with defenders of (anarchist) black blocs, defenders of burkinis, those who want to disarm the police, those who… Want to open prisons because prisons aren’t pretty.”

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For her party’s interim leader, Melenchon poses “a threat to the republic.”

“I think today’s extremism is on the side of Mr. Melenchon,” Jordan Bardella told a news conference, using the very label the French press favors for his own far-right party.

Le Pen and Melenchon are long-time political enemies. But for Le Pen, hostility has deepened markedly with the left-wing alliance Melenchon has forged with Socialists, Communists and Greens, which is strengthening his hand. Le Pen’s party rejected an alliance with rising far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who stole some of her party’s well-known figures but garnered just 7% of the vote.

Paradoxically, while Le Pen finished third in the presidential campaign compared to Melenchon and led the far right to an unprecedented electoral performance, her party goes into the general elections on June 12-19 in a weaker position than Melenchon, supported by his alliances.

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France’s legislative electoral system favors the president and prevents Le Pen’s party from penetrating deep into the majority. Only eight National Rally MPs won seats in the last election. Le Pen, who wants to renew her seat, is among 569 candidates her party is fielding across France.

“It’s a very brutal campaign… At the same time, it’s a campaign where there’s no real debate, where many French people feel that their day-to-day problems aren’t being addressed,” said far-right expert Jean-Yves Camus. It’s also, he added, “a pretty surreal campaign with Mr. Melenchon saying, ‘I, Prime Minister.'”

Macron’s party and its centrist allies hold over 300 seats in the outgoing parliament. Nonetheless, his Republic on the Move changed its name to Renaissance and allied itself with other centrists.

“It’s going to be the toughest election campaign,” the president warned his party’s candidates this week. “Our country is divided”

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Divisions, drama and harsh rhetoric are nothing new in French elections.

“France is a country where the political tradition is extremely divisive,” said Camus. “You get the impression of two parts of the country that find it difficult to talk to each other.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/14/emmanuel-who-far-right-fighting-hard-left-for-french-vote/ Emmanuel who? The extreme right is fighting hard against the left for the French vote

Joel McCord

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