Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters

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Jean-Luc Melenchon speaks during a campaign event in Lille, France, on April 12, 2017.

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June.

Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.”

Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation.

Courting the Left

Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 percentage points on her rival. Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common.

In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement.

Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45 percent of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23 percent at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40 percent from 55 percent, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15 percent from 22 percent.

With a shrinking portion of his support going to Le Pen, Melenchon can more easily claim that he is not supporting the nationalist by withholding an endorsement for Macron. Mainstream parties in France have traditionally united to block Le Pen’s National Front because of the party’s history of anti-Semitism, though Le Pen has tried to clean up the group’s image in recent years.

Raising the stakes for Melenchon ahead of the parliamentary elections, a second poll on Thursday showed he is positioned to displace the Socialists as the main party of the French left.

“Melenchon and France Unbowed are best placed to represent the left of tomorrow, so long as he doesn’t blow electoral by taking the attitude of a bad lose,” Gael Sliman, president of Odoxa said in a statement.