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Leftist Candidate Surges in French Presidential Election

Inspiring hope in battle against Europe's far-right, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is swiftly gaining in polls

Jean-Luc Melenchon

Jean-Luc Melenchon met a cheering crowd of 70,000 at a campaign rally Tuesday in Marseilles, France. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

In a surprising twist in the French presidential election, leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is surging in the polls, raising the possibility of a run-off vote between the pro-worker and pro-immigrant candidate and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also gaining voters on a staunchly progressive platform, reminiscent of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) campaign in the U.S. presidential election.

Mélenchon has "promised to increase the minimum wage by 16 percent, to strive for a 32-hour working week, reinstate retirement at age 60, make all medical care free, increase unemployment benefits, nationalize the arms industry and electricity companies, and hire 60,000 teachers. Income tax for high earners would rise to 90 percent, while all personal earnings over €400,000 per year would be confiscated," summarizes the Irish Times.

He's also gained voters' support with his sense of humor, describing the rise of his center-right opponent Emmanuel Macron—an investment banker who has never held public office—as a "hallucinogenic mushroom."

Just 10 days before France's first round of voting on April 23, Mélenchon is now polling at 19 percent. That puts him within striking distance of Le Pen and Macron, who are polling at 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

"Mélenchon's rise means that with up to a third of voters undecided, no two opinion polls entirely alike and margins of error to account for, it is impossible to say with certainty who of the front four will go head-to-head in the second round," observes the Guardian.

The Irish Times further notes: "At present, Mélenchon is the only candidate with momentum, which raises the possibility he could reach the second round on May 7th."

Mélenchon first made headlines when he ran for president in 2012 on an anti-austerity platform. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote at the time, Mélenchon "seems to be the only one in the race that understands the real economic choices faced by France and the eurozone. France does not need austerity."

Mélenchon's loss in that election was partly blamed by pundits on his staunch pro-immigrant stance, which was brought to the forefront when he told North African immigrants at a 2012 rally that the French "open their arms to you."

Today, Mélenchon remains undaunted as the strongest proponent of a welcoming immigration policy. On Tuesday, he drew a crowd of 70,000 to a campaign rally at the Port of Marseilles, where he called for a minute's silence for the migrants who have died at sea. Extending an olive branch to the crowd, he described himself as the candidate of peace.

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