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Jean-Luc Mélenchon, An Old-School Leftist Shaking Up France's Race For President

Mélenchon’s candidacy has turned the French election upside-down, with his passionate defense of the underclass and mobilization of labor unions. His growing support could cause trouble for Francois Hollande, who had otherwise seemed sure to unseat Sarkoz

Mélenchon holding up the radical left (Place au Peuple)
Mélenchon holding up the radical left (Place au Peuple)
Joel Cossardeaux

Two months ago, Front de Gauche party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was complaining about being blacklisted by the media. Those days are over. Now a candidate to be reckoned with, Mélenchon is polling third, at between 13% and 15% support ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in the race for the French presidency. The top two candidates will face off in a runoff in early May.

Here's a snapshot of Mélenchon's rise.

Catch phrase Out with them all.. is the title of Mélanchon's populist book written in 2010, and the catch phrase that made him famous. When he became the Front de Gauche (Left Front) party presidential candidate, this sort of provocative slogan became his specialty. He began his campaign with the idea of a "citizens' revolution", and wanted to "make way for the people" with a project entitled "Humanity first." His campaign poster invites electors to "Seize power!"

Platform Social issues are at the core of Mélenchon's program. As soon as he is elected as the new French president, he will reinstate the 35-hour working week and bring the legal retirement age down to 60. Other proposals to be immediately implemented: a rent freeze, a 1700-euro monthly minimum wage and a maximum wage for top executives limited to 20 times the lowest company wage.

Pity the "super-wealthy" if he becomes president, because annual income above 360,000 euros a year will be taxed at 100%. The whole income tax system will be changed, with the creation of 9 new tax brackets. Companies will be taxed according to financial revenue and employment objectives. His term of office will be focused on two major reforms: a new European constitutional reform, validated by a referendum, and a new French Constitution, abolishing the current presidentialist system

Pros and cons Even his opponents admit it: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is an excellent public speaker. His "earnest, even brutal" speaking style has brought back into the fold left-wing abstainers and disillusioned voters. But beware of gaffes! When he called frontrunner François Hollande a "paddle boat captain," he was criticized by his long-term ally, the Communist Party. The Communists owe their relevance today to Hollande's party, with which they have formed many alliances in order to try to win local elections.

Campaign journey Jean-Luc Mélenchon began his presidential campaign very early on, and his rise to fame went largely unnoticed at first. The only hint of things to come: the auditoriums he was holding his rallys in were becoming bigger and bigger: from small halls fitting only 1,000 participants, he quickly filled the Zenith, one of the biggest Parisian concert halls, with a capacity of 10,000. On March 7, he polled above 10% for the first time. This was a turning point for the candidate, who was finally enjoying more media coverage.

True objective Mélenchon is aiming for the third place in Sunday's first round, in front of far right candidate Marine Le Pen, whom he openly despises and has sworn to beat. He is hoping to use this third place to influence François Hollande into moving to the left of the political spectrum ahead of his expected second-round runoff against Nicolas Sarkozy on May 6.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Place au Peuple

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