Jean-Luc Mélenchon spent Sunday cheerily waving at and addressing crowds as he crossed Paris by canal boat. Accompanied by a brass band, it was an original and upbeat choice for a campaign rally.
French citizens will head to the ballot box for the first round of voting in the presidential election this coming Sunday, and Mélenchon has good reason to be optimistic. The far-left firebrand has experienced a late surge in the polls, putting him within a few points of the frontrunners, Front National’s Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron. The latest poll by Ifop places Mélenchon at 19.5 per cent, level with conservative candidate François Fillon and close behind Le Pen, at 22.5 per cent, and Macron, at 23 per cent.
Mélenchon, leader of grassroots party La France Insoumise (‘Defiant France’), has a strong anti-austerity and anti-globalisation message and advocates major change to the French political system. He wants to abolish the presidential regime of the Fifth Republic and create a popular assembly. He plans to ‘share the wealth’ by implementing extremely high taxes on those earning over €400,000 per year and cracking down on tax evasion. Moreover, he has long been Eurosceptic. He plans to seek dramatic reform of the European Union, before possibly putting France’s EU membership to a referendum.
His popularity has been rising since mid-March, when he performed well in the first of the candidates’ televised debates. This is the second time he has stood for election. In 2012, he came fourth in the first round with 11 per cent of the vote, despite predictions he would do better.
While he is an experienced politician, known for his oratory skills, he was criticised during the last campaign for being too aggressive. This time it seems efforts have been made to soften his image and appeal to a younger audience. During this campaign Mélenchon has turned into something of a showman. He is the first French presidential candidate to use hologram technology to deliver speeches in more than one place at the same time, and his team have launched a free hit-the-rich videogame called Fiscal Kombat.