Jean-Luc Melenchon reacts during the election night of left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) following the first results of the second round of France's legislative election at La Rotonde Stalingrad in Paris on July 7, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Jean-Luc Melenchon wasted no time seizing the opportunity as initial poll results indicated a surprise victory for the leftist New Popular Front in the French legislative vote.

Ahead of other leaders from the alliance — comprising his own far-left France Unbowed, the Socialists, and the Greens — Melenchon took centre-stage at a rally, asserting their mandate to govern.

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He also firmly stated that the New Popular Front would reject any alliances or negotiations with other political groups.

Marine Le Pen arrives at the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party headquarters in Paris on July 8, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

The NFP — formed last month after Macron called snap elections — brought the previously deeply divided Socialists, Greens, Communists and the hard-left LFI together.

Projections and provisional results show the NFP will be the largest bloc in the new National Assembly with around 190 seats, Macron’s alliance on around 160 seats and the RN on about 140.

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No group is close to the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority.

The 72-year-old Melenchon leads France Unbowed, the largest party within the left-wing New Popular Front alliance, hastily formed after President Emmanuel Macron called for a snap election.

Melenchon demanded that Macron recognise his defeat and appoint a left wing premier to replace Gabriel Attal, telling his supporters that the New Popular Front will implement its programme in full.

Socialist leader Olivier Faure struck a more conciliatory note, saying it’s the party’s job to “find a path” to respond to the needs and demands of French people.

Who is Melenchon?

Jean-Luc Melenchon, often likened to Jeremy Corbyn, has been a pivotal figure in French left-wing politics for decades.

He spent 30 years in the Socialist Party and held ministerial posts before breaking with the party in 2008.

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He was behind a string of left-wing coalitions, which ended up with France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, or LFI) launched in 2016.

Melenchon ran for president in 2012, 2017 and 2022, improving his score each time.

In 2022 he came third, just behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Macron won that election.

Where is he from?

Born in Tangier, Morocco, in 1951 to a post office worker and teacher of Spanish and Italian descent, his family moved to France when he was 11.

He studied philosophy at university and became a leader of the student movement during the protests of May 1968.

He was a member of the French Trotskyist movement and worked as a teacher and journalist before entering politics.

A fiery orator, Melenchon is one of the most divisive figures in French politics, enthusing some voters while horrifying others.

In 2017, he campaigned on a platform advocating a 100% tax on income above €400,000 (£338,000), a reduction of the working week to 32 hours, and the phase-out of nuclear power.

Known for his bold fiscal policies and provocative rhetoric, he has stirred controversy with his stance on issues like Gaza.

He has expressed admiration for leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba, causing anxiety among markets and investors whenever he nears political power.

Renowned for his impassioned speeches delivered without prompts, he often criticizes “extreme markets” that he believes exacerbate societal inequalities in France.

What’s NFP’s programme?

The NFP’s programme, heavily influenced by the radical-left LFI, outlines several key pledges aimed at significantly increasing France’s public spending. These include reversing Macron’s pension reforms to restore the retirement age to 60 from the current 64, raising public sector wages, indexing salaries to inflation, enhancing housing and youth benefits, reducing taxes and social security contributions for low-income earners, and implementing a wealth tax on the affluent.

Additionally, the NFP aims to raise the minimum wage, expand childcare availability by 500,000 places, cap prices on essential goods like food, electricity, gas, and petrol, promote green initiatives with a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, and reform the EU’s common agricultural policy.

In terms of foreign policy, the alliance advocates for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, recognition of Palestine, opposing Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, continuing military support for Kyiv, and staunchly defending Ukrainian sovereignty and freedom.

Image Credit: AFP

Macron’s view of him?

Macron has harboured a long-standing disdain for Mélenchon. Notably, in 2018, Mélenchon gained attention when he was captured on video berating a police officer conducting a search of his office as part of a campaign funding probe. He forcefully pointed his finger at the officer and shouted, “Get out of my way and let me open the door. I am the representative of the republic!”

Subsequently, Mélenchon received a three-month suspended prison sentence and an €8,000 (£6,700) fine for intimidating officials.

Will Melenchon be next prime minister?
Macron declined Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s resignation on Monday morning, urging him to remain in office temporarily “to uphold the country’s stability.”

Melenchon insisted that the next prime minister should come from the New Popular Front (NFP), where he is widely considered a leading figure despite no official leadership.

However, the coalition’s parties are divided on selecting a candidate.

Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure called for a prime ministerial candidate to be chosen within the week, emphasizing the need for a profile capable of engaging with the international community and uniting civil society. Green leader Marine Tondelier suggested on France Inter radio that the candidate could emerge from France Unbowed, the Greens, or the Socialists, the alliance’s largest factions

What has Melenchon said about the election result?

He said the surprise results of the legislative elections were an “immense relief for a majority of people in our country”.

“We are allowed to love our country,” he said, noting that was not assured before the results.

He thanked the French people for their “obstinate patience”.

How did the people react?

Many in France were overjoyed by the outcome, and cheering crowds gathered in eastern Paris to celebrate Le Pen’s defeat, but potentially divisive talks on forming a new government were just beginning, three weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

What next for France?

France’s political class is drawing breath after a turbulent parliamentary election as officials prepare to begin in earnest negotiations over the next government.

Many new lawmakers from the left-wing alliance were focused on hiring advisers and moving into their offices in the National Assembly on Monday. Macron is meeting with lawmakers from his party as representatives from across the political spectrum take stock of the situation.

The leftists being the largest group of the NFP may get to make the first move and Senator Yannick Jadot, touted as a potential premier, told Franceinfo that the group is aiming to nominate a candidate in the next few days.

The coming negotiations are likely to put strain on all of the parties involved as they consider the compromises required to form a functioning government.

In a sign of tensions still to come, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who appears ready to breakaway from Macron’s party to mount a run for the presidency in 2027, is meeting with another group of lawmakers from the president’s party.

Gabriel Attal, Macron’s 35-year-old prime minister, has also been keen to emphasize that it was not his decision to hold snap elections, but solely Macron’s.