Mélenchon consolidates himself in the French legislative elections as Macron’s main rival | International
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, at the age of 70 and perhaps in the last battle of a long career in politics, is experiencing his hour of glory. On Sunday, in the first round of the French legislative elections, the left-wing coalition he leads tied with the candidacy of President Emmanuel Macron. And he was left in an optimal position to become, after the second round next Sunday, the second force in the National Assembly.
The glory, however, is not complete. No polling institute gives him a majority of deputies. It was the objective that he set for himself when, after the presidential elections in April, he proposed the legislative elections as a revenge and an election that would force the president to appoint him prime minister. Mélenchon, who a few months ago seemed on the verge of falling into political irrelevance, is today the first opponent of Macron.
The goal of Mélenchon and the candidates of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) is now to mobilize as many as possible of the 53% of registered voters who abstained on Sunday and turn the predictions around on the 19th. No he has it easy. But if NUPES – an alliance of Mélenchon’s eurosceptics and anti-capitalists with socialists, communists and ecologists – forms the first opposition group in the National Assembly, it will already be a success that would have been unimaginable a few months ago.
The success of Mélenchon endorses the cliché according to which there is strength in unity. Alone, none of the leftist parties would have tied with Ensemble (Together), Macron’s candidacy, nor could they aspire, as projections indicate, to have between 175 and 205 seats. That is to say, more than triple that of the NUPES parties separately in the legislature that is now ending.
“It is the result of having managed to understand each other and having put an end to decades of disunity,” summarizes Caroline Mecary by phone, a Mélenchonist candidate in Paris against the current Minister of Europe, Clément Beaune. In the first round, Mecary got 39.5% of the votes; Beaune, 34.7%. Both went to the second round.
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“The left can only win elections if it unites”, corroborated a few days ago, during an electoral act in which Mecary was accompanied by the former socialist deputy Patrick Bloche. He spoke from experience. Since the socialist François Hollande left the Elysee in 2017, the Socialist Party (PS) had not stopped shrinking. The candidate of her party, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, obtained 1.7% of the vote in the presidential elections.
position of strength
Mélenchon, from the position of strength that came third in the first round of the presidential elections and 400,000 votes from qualifying for the final, imposed an agreement at the beginning of May and in a matter of days on the weakened socialists, environmentalists and communists. They had to swallow some toads, such as the leftist leader’s Eurosceptic program (in the case of the Socialists) or his opposition to nuclear power plants (in the case of the Communists).
In exchange, the socialists obtained the guarantees of forming their own group in the National Assembly, which would have been more complicated if they had each presented themselves on their own. The novelty of the agreement, compared to other unions of the left in recent decades, is that this time it was not made under the tutelage of its moderate wing, the PS, but of the radical wing: Mélenchon’s La France Insumisa (LFI).
Mélenchon also demonstrated his skill by proclaiming in April: “Elect me prime minister.” Legislative elections elect a parliamentary majority, not directly a prime minister. But, with this statement, the leftist leader removed from the head of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen, the flag of the first opponent of Macron. And, despite having been left out for the third time in the second round of the presidential elections, suddenly all the spotlights were focused on him. He set a mental framework: this was its election, although paradoxically he did not appear to revalidate the seat he held. In any case, he offered himself as the only one in a position to laminate the president’s power. “It was a way to repoliticize the debate and set an objective,” says candidate Mecary. “It is a formula, an image that allows giving meaning to the commitment and the vote.”
The fruits of the plan
The plan has borne fruit. In the first round, NUPES obtained 25.66%, very close to the 25.75% of the Ensemble macronistas. For the president, this result represents a drop of two points compared to the first round of the presidential elections in April and almost seven points compared to the legislative elections of 2017. Mélenchon places his candidates in the second round in 384 of the 577 constituencies. Several Macron ministers, including Beaune, could lose to Mélenchon candidates on Sunday, forcing them to resign from office, the president has ordered.
Mélenchon’s success, at the same time, hides the fact that the percentage is almost the same as the one that the parties that make up NUPES obtained in the legislative elections five years ago. And he may fall short of the goal of reaching a parliamentary majority and being the new prime minister.
Before the second round on Sunday, the advantage of the macronistas, in the districts where they face NUPES candidates, is that they can appeal to voters from Los Republicanos, the traditional right-wing party. NUPES, on the other hand, does not have as much room to grow, except among abstentionists. Abstention is higher among young people, 69%, and this is a propitious fishing ground for the left. “To win in the second round, we must be on the ground, explain the program and convince those who have not gone to vote that it is imperative to vote for their daily lives,” says Mecary. “You have to get the abstainers back.”
There are five days left in the campaign, and Macron and Mélenchon refine the arguments. “In the face of extremes, we will not give in on anything,” said the new prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, on election night, with a formula that seemed to equate the extreme right and the radical left.
The unknown was what voting slogan the macronistas would give in the 58 constituencies where Mélenchon’s candidates faced Le Pen. At first, on Sunday night, they hesitated: the decision was “case by case.” An equidistance that marries badly with the rhetoric of the cordon sanitaire before the extreme right. Hours later, they rectified. “Let’s be clear: not a single vote should go to the National Rally,” stressed the government spokeswoman, Olivia Grégoire. It is the same formula that Mélenchon used in April when Le Pen and Macron qualified for the second round of the presidential elections.
Mélenchon, who on Sunday erroneously said that more than 500 NUPES candidates had reached the second round and proclaimed Macron’s defeat, questions the final result published by the Ministry of the Interior, which gives a slight advantage of just over 21,000 votes to Ensemble. He maintains that the recount does not include some of his candidates and that it is due to a plan to harm him. “NUPES has won”, assured his right-hand man, Manuel Bompard. “The accounting of the Ministry of the Interior is a new form of manipulation.”
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