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The leader of the extreme left sees a victory in the French vote, himself as the new prime minister

PARIS – Left-wing parties, which have all but disappeared from France’s political landscape, have gained wings in the run-up to Sunday’s general election and are now threatening to undermine President Emmanuel Macron and his hopes of getting his agenda through parliament.

An alliance of left-wing parties cobbled together by far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is now gaining ground in polls. The election poster “Prime Minister Melenchon” no longer elicits a smile from opponents.

Commentators have yet to agree on how to pronounce Nupes, the French acronym for the Alliance, the New People’s Ecological and Social Union. Melenchon simply calls it the People’s Union. It brings together its party, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), Socialists, Communists and Greens.

“It’s amazing, so inspiring and motivating. The entire left wing is behind Melenchon,” said Michael Gorre, a 45-year-old computer scientist who attended a coalition rally in Paris last week. “It feels good to have someone talking about specific things.”

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Macron, a centrist, has made it clear that he alone appoints the prime minister, although in practice his choice will be determined by the outcome of the election, which will not be known until the second round on June 19. So if Nupes wins a majority, he’d probably choose someone from the coalition, but it might not be Melenchon.

Macron won a second mandate in April’s presidential election and is now seeking an outright majority — 289 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower house — to quickly pass legislation. Among the laws on his radar is his controversial decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65. Melenchon, meanwhile, wants to lower it to 60.

70-year-old Melenchon’s bold bid for prime minister is symptomatic of France’s shattered political landscape. Traditional mainstream parties like the Socialist and conservative right-wing Republicans have slipped off the voters’ radar after losses in previous elections. Three blocs emerged: Melenchon’s hard left, Marine Le Pen’s extreme right, and Macron’s centrists, who warn against “the extremes”.

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Melenchon’s alliance is at odds with Macron’s centrists in polls for leadership. Nupes topped a poll this week, albeit within margin of error. Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the presidential runoff, finished third.

Le Pen is well aware that her anti-immigrant National Rally party cannot compete with Melenchon’s alliance under the current electoral system.

In her calls to end the elections, Le Pen is asking her supporters to help her party get as many MPs as possible in “last-chance elections” to block the French president’s path to unbridled power.

Unlike Melenchon’s candidacy for prime minister, Le Pen’s more modest goal is to form a parliamentary group to gain more speaking time and other benefits. This requires at least 15 legislators. Her party won just eight seats in the 2017 vote.

“Jean-Luc Melenchon will never be prime minister. He’s lying to the French… days before he retires,” Le Pen mockingly tweeted during a campaign trip to the southern coastal city of Agde on Thursday. She was referring to his decision not to try to renew his parliamentary seat while she is campaigning to keep hers.

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A shrewd politician with an oratorical gift, Melenchon has long been a figure on the French left, first in the Socialist Party and as a senator. But it wasn’t until 2016, when he founded the hard-left party France Unbowed, that his profile matched his ambitions.

Melenchon’s plea for social justice is among the draws for scores of voters, including Christelle Baker, 32, who sees his alliance as a focal point for her autistic brother.

“Nupes stands for social justice and … issues such as the health system, the environment, education or the situation of people with disabilities,” said Baker at the rally in Paris in a sold-out theater. “We may not win, but we can have a big faction. We can say our word.”

Melenkhon’s alliance would raise minimum wages along with salaries in a variety of sectors and nationalize airports and highways. He criticizes “neoliberalism and the financialized economy”.

“Foreign commentators,” he said at the Paris event last week, “if you want to know what France is, this is it: liberty, equality, fraternity and social welfare.”

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For Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, Melenchon is the “Gallic Chavez”. This reference to former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, known for his socialist revolution, stuck in the mind of the man who seems to relish controversy.

Melenchon sparked his latest furor by tweeting last weekend that “police kills” after a female passenger was killed in a car that police on bicycles fired on when it refused to stop for a check.

Macron sees Melenchon as extreme. “Nothing could be more dangerous than adding to the world disorder the French disorder proposed by the extremes,” he was quoted as saying by the French press during a visit to the Tarn region on Thursday.

A day earlier, a crowd of cheering children surrounded the President, one of whom jumped into his arms as he visited the impoverished Seine-Saint-Denis region near Paris. A young girl asked where Melenchon was and said, “I want Melenchon to win.”

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The President told her that Melenchon was not there, then added: “I don’t want him to win the legislature. Otherwise I can’t do anything.”

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/2022/06/10/hard-left-leader-sees-win-in-french-vote-himself-as-new-pm/ The leader of the extreme left sees a victory in the French vote, himself as the new prime minister

Sarah Y. Kim

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