The rise and fall of Jean-Luc Mélenchon

By Bradley Bernard

JEAN-LUC Mélenchon has suddenly emerged as the third competitor in the 2022 French Presidential election – but he looks unlikely to eclipse his 2017 insurgency and smash the Macron-Le Pen electoral duopoly this time around.

The firebrand leftist appeared to be drifting behind the centre-left in recent months, but has made a comeback – according to opinion polls, at least – by positioning himself as the ‘anti-Macron’.

Rallies in recent weeks have drawn tens of thousands as Mélenchon has overtaken the seemingly entrenched Valérie Pécresse and the far-right Éric Zemmour.

But while his spirited socialist rhetoric continues to inspire the beleaguered French Left, it is Zemmour – as well as the environmentalist Yannick Jadot – that scuppers any serious hope of Mélenchon making the second round.

Dr Paul Smith, an expert in French Politics at the University of Nottingham, told Redaction Report: “Jean-Luc Mélenchon benefitted in 2017 from the massive transfer of votes from the Greens.

“At the end of 2016 EELV, the principal ecologist movement in France elected Yannick Jadot as their candidate.

“In early 2017, however, he stood down in favour of Benoit Hamon, the Socialist candidate, in the hope that a combined Socialist-Green ticket would get through. In fact, most of Jadot’s voters, if they were on the left, opted instead for Mélenchon, who some describe as the most ecologist of all the candidates in 2017.

“Jadot is back this time and not backing down.”

Zemmour also threatened to eclipse Le Pen as the candidate of the right this election, but his novelty has worn off since the start of the year and he continues to tumble in the polls.

However, he still reaches double digits in most French election surveys – and like the Brexit Party in the 2019 General Election, he could help inadvertently blunt the Left vote.

“The space for a radical voice in the election looks to have been taken by Eric Zemmour,” Dr Smith said.

“And the rightwards shift in French politics has not help Mélenchon’s cause, even though the issues that really need addressing are principally social questions, as both the pandemic and the Yellow Vest movement underlined.  But those issues are just not getting the airing they need at the moment.”

READ MORE: Don’t count on Macron’s collapse – or on the rise of French nationalism

Mélenchon’s own novelty is also under threat. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders occupied the hearts and minds of the Western Left. But it appears the Frenchman stands alone – with even his party not fully behind him.

According to Dr Smith, voters will now see Melenchon as the “old guard” himself.

He said: “While Mélenchon looks like he has a party behind him, La France Insoumise, it is very much all about him, with his lieutenants very much just that. And that is not playing so well this time as last. In 2017 he talked about dégagisme – sweeping away the old guard… but now he looks like the old guard.”

Mélenchon’s rise is certainly encouraging for the Left as a whole, but barring an electoral miracle, socialists in France may be forced to hold their nose – again – to keep Le Pen out of power.

Dr Paul Smith is an Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham. His areas of expertise include contemporary French politics and institutions.

Featured Image: Pierre-Selim @Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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