28 May 2012

Why Melenchon Takes on Le Pen?

On June 10th the first round of legislative elections will take place in France. A run off election is scheduled the following Sunday, the 17th.

Since French Assemblée Nationale is a shadow of its former self in the Fourth Republic, under normal circumstances not many people would pay attention to these elections and the composition of the assembly. But the Presidential elections that resulted in Nicolas Sarkozy's ignominious exit after one term in office triggered an interesting dynamic.

Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate who unexpectedly received 18 percent of the presidential vote decided not to throw her support behind Sarkozy for the second round, hoping that his defeat would seriously weaken his party, UMP. In other words, she was hoping for a polarized parliament where her party the National Front (FN) could be the leading conservative entity.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon the charismatic leader of Front de Gauche (FDG) was expected to do well during the presidential elections but ended up receiving only 11 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, as his unequivocal support of François Hollande for the second round was instrumental in in Hollande's victory, everyone expected him to negotiate a prominent role for himself, perhaps even a ministerial portfolio. He dismissed such notions, declaring that his support was a matter of principle and should not become a bargaining chip.

As people were wondering what he was going to do next, he surprised everyone by announcing his candidacy for the upcoming legislative elections, something he had previously said he would not consider. And on top of that, instead of a safe district, he chose one of the toughest places to win, the 11th district of Pas-de-Calais.

Which is Hénin-Beaumont, also known as Marine Le Pen's electoral district.

Mélenchon is describing this campaign as a "Homeric fight" and he has a point. Le Pen initially chose that place because it was one of the birth places of the French workers' movement and it remained a Communist stronghold for decades. She planted her flag there to underline the fact that de-industrialization turned former communists into xenophobic reactionaries. Apparently, she relishes the symbolism. It has to be said that her victory was made possible at least partially by allegations of corruption against the local Socialist Party.

Clearly, Mélenchon's goal is not to get elected to National Assembly. He is there to stop Marine Le Pen from entering the National Assembly and to block her plans to further polarize politics. Interestingly, the local socialists or the national Socialist Party are refusing to help him by withdrawing their candidate. Quite the contrary, the socialist candidate Philippe Kermel even accused him of grand standing and staging a media fight of Front vs Front (FDG vs FN).

This is short-sighted and stupid. The latest polls indicate that FN is likely to get 16 percent of the vote in legislative elections and could end up with a reasonably large group. In fact, if their supporters have been lying to pollsters as they did during the presidential elections, that 16 percent might be several points higher.

On the other side, the PS and UMP are within the statistical error margin (30 to 34.5 percent for PS and 30 to 33 percent for UMP). If Le Pen was prevented from heading her party's parliamentary group, her plans to weaken the conservative bloc and pull it to further right could be thwarted.

And that would mean the contagion of polarization that is engulfing almost every country right now could be contained in France. I don't need to tell you how badly Europe needs a social democratic France.

But the encouraging news is that even with the PS candidate in play, polls indicate that Melenchon might win the second round and stop Le Pen.

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